NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Smart and Illicit: Who Becomes an Entrepreneur and Do They Earn More?

Ross Levine, Yona Rubinstein

NBER Working Paper No. 19276
Issued in August 2013
NBER Program(s):   CF   LS

We disaggregate the self-employed into incorporated and unincorporated to distinguish between "entrepreneurs" and other business owners. We show that the incorporated self-employed and their businesses engage in activities that demand comparatively strong nonroutine cognitive abilities, while the unincorporated and their firms perform tasks demanding relatively strong manual skills. The incorporated selfemployed have distinct cognitive and noncognitive traits. Besides tending to be white, male, and come from higher-income families, the incorporated—as teenagers—typically scored higher on learning aptitude tests, had greater self-esteem, and engaged in more disruptive, illicit activities. The combination of "smart" and "illicit" tendencies as youths accounts for both entry into entrepreneurship and the comparative earnings of entrepreneurs. In contrast to past research, we find that entrepreneurs earn more per hour and work more hours than their salaried and unincorporated counterparts.

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This paper was revised on September 29, 2015

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19276

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