Heterogeneity Among Mexico's Micro-Enterprises: An Application of Factor and Cluster Analysis

43 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Wendy Cunningham

Wendy Cunningham

World Bank

William F. Maloney

World Bank - Poverty and Economic Management Unit; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Date Written: September 8, 1999


The small firm sector comprises several types. Although some are a refuge for displaced salaried workers, most were started by workers who chose to be entrepreneurs - and they show dynamics consistent with patterns in the industrial world. A long tradition sees the small firm sector as a holding pattern for workers queuing for jobs in the formal sector of a segmented labor market. An alternative entrepreneurial view suggests that many workers prefer self-employment to salaried jobs. These competing views can be resolved if the sector is heterogenous.

Using factor and cluster analysis, Cunningham and Maloney generate a typology of the sector by taking advantage of a Mexican data set on micro-firms that offers information on a broad range of small firm characteristics. The methodology permits divisions to emerge from the data without the a priori imposition of a theoretical structure. The data break into several distinct groups, broadly characterized as highly profitable and dynamic young firms, older firms that have stabilized at a small size, and young firms that act as an employer of last resort. Those in the last group, comprised of older entrepreneurs with low levels of education, are the most likely to cite that they started their firms because they were unable to find a salaried job.

In general most of the firm owners in all groups stated that they chose self-employment over formal sector employment in order to be independent, collect higher earnings, or follow family tradition. These survey responses are supported by the finding that income distribution adjusted for human capital is composed of two subdistributions, with the under-performing distribution comprising only 14 percent of the sample. The factor analysis also implies that firm owner characteristics and firm size or profitability may not be correlated. For example, young workers who we might think are forced into the small firm sector due to inability to enter the formal job market do not necessarily earn less or have less capital than older entrepreneurs. Furthermore, a distribution of the earnings residual factor shows that very few firms, regardless of the firm owner's age, are earning below their expected profits. The data suggest that the small size of informal firms may not necessarily result from limited access to financial institutions or a desire to evade labor or tax laws. Instead, the firms simply may be in the beginning stages of a growth process or owners may prefer to remain small.

This paper is a product of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Sector Unit, Latin America and the Caribbean Region.

Suggested Citation

Cunningham, Wendy and Maloney, William F., Heterogeneity Among Mexico's Micro-Enterprises: An Application of Factor and Cluster Analysis (September 8, 1999). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 1999, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=629109

Wendy Cunningham

World Bank ( email )

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William F. Maloney (Contact Author)

World Bank - Poverty and Economic Management Unit ( email )

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United States
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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

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