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Cross-country variations in the participation of small businesses in the informal economy: An institutional asymmetry explanation

Colin C Williams (Department of Management, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom)
Ioana Alexandra Horodnic (Department of Management, Marketing and Business Administration, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iasi, Romania)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 15 February 2016

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to advance a new explanation for cross-country variations in the participation of small businesses in the informal economy. Drawing upon institutional theory, it proposes that the greater the asymmetry between the codified laws and regulations of formal institutions (state morality) and the unwritten socially shared rules of informal institutions (civic morality), the greater is the propensity of small businesses to participate in the informal economy. To analyse this, the extent to which small businesses evade payroll taxes by paying employees an undeclared (envelope) wage in addition to their official declared salary is analysed.

Design/methodology/approach

To evaluate this, data are reported from a 2013 Eurobarometer survey involving 5,174 face-to-face interviews with employees in small businesses across the 28 member states of the European Union (EU-28).

Findings

The finding is that small businesses display a greater propensity to engage in this informal wage practice in countries where there is a higher degree of asymmetry between the codified laws and regulations of formal institutions (state morality) and the unwritten socially shared rules of informal institutions (civic morality). A multi-level logistic regression analysis reveals these to be countries which have lower qualities of governance, lower levels of taxation and intervention in the labour market and less effective social transfer systems.

Research limitations/implications

The major limitation of this study is that it has only examined whether employees in small businesses receive informal wages. Future cross-country surveys should analyse a wider range of ways in which small businesses participate in the informal economy such as under-reporting turnover.

Originality/value

This is the first known analysis of cross-country variations in the participation of small businesses in the informal economy.

Keywords

Citation

Williams, C.C. and Horodnic, I.A. (2016), "Cross-country variations in the participation of small businesses in the informal economy: An institutional asymmetry explanation", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 3-24. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSBED-02-2015-0021

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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