Personal Wealth and Self-Employment

Aymeric Bellon, Finance, The Wharton School; J. Anthony Cookson, Leeds School of Business; Erik Gilje, Finance, The Wharton School; and Rawley Heimer, Boston College

Abstract: We examine how wealth windfalls affect self-employment decisions using data on cash payments from claims on Texas shale drilling to people throughout the United States. Individuals who receive large wealth shocks (greater than $50,000) have 51% higher self-employment rates. The increase in self-employment rates is driven by individuals who lengthen existing self- employment spells, and not by individuals who leave regular employment for self-employment. Moreover, the effect of wealth reverts for individuals whose payments run out. Rather than alleviating a financial constraint, our evidence suggests that unrestricted cash windfalls affect self-employment decisions primarily through self-employment’s non-pecuniary benefits.

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