The Population Ecology of Organizations

Posted: 17 Nov 2009

See all articles by Michael Hannan

Michael Hannan

Stanford Graduate School of Business

John Freeman

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 1977


Factors impacting the organizational structure of firms have been analyzed often utilizing organizations theory. However, several other theories and perspectives have been proposed as potential alternative means of analyzing organizational structure and functioning. While previous studies regarding organizational structure have utilized such perspectives as adaptation and exchange theory, few studies have utilized population ecology theory, thus leading to the current study. Although population ecology theory is most often used in the biological sciences, many of its principles lend well to organizational analysis. Due to internal structural arrangements (e.g. information constraints, political constraints) and environmental pressures (e.g. legal and fiscal barriers, legitimacy) of an organization, the inflexibility of an organization limits the firm's organizational analysis utilizing an adaptation perspective. The challenges and discontinuities associated with utilizing an ecological perspective are identified, including issues related to the primary sources of change (selection and adaptive learning) and related to differentiating between selection and viability. Utilizing competition theory and niche theory, several models for analyzing organizational diversity are incorporated to address factors not encompassed by ecological theory. By compiling elements of several theories, a population ecology model applicable to business related organizational analyses is derived. (AKP)

Keywords: Specialization, Resources, Adaptation, Competition, Selection, Exchange, Organizational learning, Environment, Population ecology, Organizational change, Organizational structures, Organizational practices

Suggested Citation

Hannan, Michael and Freeman, John, The Population Ecology of Organizations (1977). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:

Michael Hannan (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

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John Freeman

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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