The Bright but Right View? A New Type of Evidence on Entrepreneurial Optimism

36 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2014

See all articles by Ola Bengtsson

Ola Bengtsson

Lund University School of Economics and Management; Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)

Daniel Ekeblom

Lund University

Date Written: February 19, 2014

Abstract

Existing empirical evidence suggests that entrepreneurs are optimists, a finding researchers often interpret as evidence of a behavioral bias in entrepreneurial decision-making. We revisit this claim by analyzing an unusually large survey dataset (180,814 responses) that allows us to create a good measure of entrepreneurial optimism. Our measure is based on the individual’s beliefs about nationwide economic conditions, unlike measures that prevail in the literature of an individual’s beliefs about her personal future economic conditions. Beliefs about nationwide economic conditions form a good measure of optimism because they are completely uncorrelated with the individual’s own life or work situation (which is not optimism) and therefore do not respond to an individual’s objective situation, which may affect beliefs about her personal future economic conditions.

Our data highlight the importance of measuring optimism correctly. About half of the survey respondents differ in their beliefs about nationwide and own conditions. In addition, our measure of optimism makes it possible to relate an individual’s beliefs to actual outcomes. We can thereby test, in a novel way, whether entrepreneurial optimism is a behavioral bias or not. We show that entrepreneurs have more favorable beliefs about nationwide conditions and then that these entrepreneurs’ beliefs are relatively good predictors of the future.

We conclude from these two findings that entrepreneurs are less biased towards optimism than non-entrepreneurs are biased towards pessimism. Additional evidence pertaining to education, which arguably correlates positively with rational decision-making, supports this conclusion. We show that entrepreneurs are more educated and their beliefs about the future are more similar to educated peoples’ beliefs.

In summary, our paper documents that entrepreneurial optimism is an important real-world phenomenon, yet, it may not be a behavioral bias that gives rise to irrational decision-making.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, Forecast, Optimism, Survey data

JEL Classification: C83, D84, E27, L26

Suggested Citation

Bengtsson, Ola and Ekeblom, Daniel, The Bright but Right View? A New Type of Evidence on Entrepreneurial Optimism (February 19, 2014). IFN Working Paper No. 1008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2398954

Ola Bengtsson

Lund University School of Economics and Management ( email )

P.O Box 7080
Lund
Sweden

HOME PAGE: http://www.olabengtsson.com

Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) ( email )

Box 55665
Grevgatan 34, 2nd floor
Stockholm, SE-102 15
Sweden

Daniel Ekeblom (Contact Author)

Lund University ( email )

Box 117
Lund, SC Skane S221 00
Sweden

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