Ethnic Discrimination in the Marketplace of Small Business Transfers

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1 Ethnic Discrimination in the Marketplace of Small Business Transfers Ali M. Ahmed Department of Economics and Statistics, Växjö University, SE Växjö, Sweden Phone: Lina Andersson Department of Economics and Statistics, Växjö University, SE Växjö, Sweden Phone: Mats Hammarstedt (Corresponding author) Department of Economics and Statistics, Växjö University, SE Växjö, Sweden Phone: Abstract Immigrants have become increasingly important on the labour market in several European countries as the share of foreign born individuals has increased during recent decades. Simultaneously with the increase the of immigrant population several European countries has also experienced an increase in immigrant self-employment. Self-employment is therefore an important measure to improve labour market integration among immigrants as well as to improve economic integration between countries since self-employed individuals may do business within Sweden as well as with customers from other countries. One way to become self-employed is to take over an already existing business. Against this background, this paper presents the first field experiment regarding ethnic discrimination in the market place of business transfers. We let two fictitious interested buyers, one with a typical Swedish name and one with a typical Arab/Muslim name, make offers to buy small businesses advertised for sale on the Internet in Sweden. We find that sellers discriminate against buyers with an Arab/Muslim name in the sense that Arab/Muslim individuals receive fewer responses from the sellers. This result suggests that ethnic minorities may face difficulties and discrimination in the marketplace of small business transfers. This also leads to the conclusion that ethnic minorities have difficulties succeeding in self-employment. Keywords: Discrimination; self-employment; ethnic minorities; field experiment. Jel: J7; C9. Acknowledgements: We have received comments and suggestions from seminar participants at Växjö University and Gothenburg University. Ali Ahmed appreciates the financial support from the Wallander-Hedelius Foundation. 1

2 1 Introduction It is a well-known fact that ethnic minorities often suffer from higher unemployment rates than the native population and have a harder time entering the labor market. One important alternative to unemployment for these vulnerable minorities has been to become selfemployed by starting their own business or taking over an existing one. 1 Research on selfemployment among ethnic minorities has often focused on its determinants, and the literature has put forth some possible explanations of why certain some minorities prefer selfemployment to wage-employment. 2 The literature on ethnic self-employment has, however, neglected the fact that people can become self-employed either by starting a new business or by buying an existing one. There are several reasons why buying a business may be a more appealing way than starting a business to become self-employed. For instance, buying an established business offers the possibility of taking over its customer base. Further, if the business is profitable, the new owner receives an income stream right away. In addition, banks would be more likely to finance the purchase of an existing business, than they would a start-up. Thus, among those who decide to become self-employed, there are good reasons to believe that people who are buying an existing business have an advantage over those who are starting a new one. The share of immigrants as well as the self-employment rates among immigrants has increased in several European countries during recent decades. In the European Union self- 1 For studies on self-employment among ethnic minorities from the United States, see Borjas (1986), Yuengert (1995) and Fairlie and Meyer (1996). For studies from European countries, see Clark and Drinkwater (2000) and Hammarstedt (2006). 2 See, e.g., Kinzer and Sagarin (1950), Frazier (1957), Light (1972), Bonacich (1973), Moore (1983) and Light (1984). 2

3 employment is therefore an important measure to improve labour market integration among immigrants. Furthermore, immigrant self-employment is also a measure to improve economic integration between countries, within as well as outside the European Union, since selfemployed individuals may do business within Sweden as well as with customers from other countries. The policy relevance of questions regarding immigrant self-employment and the existence of ethnic discrimination in the market place of small business transfers is therefore evident. In this paper we then ask the following question: Do ethnic minorities have the same opportunities as natives to buy an existing business in the marketplace of small business transfers? To answer this question, we study ethnic discrimination in the marketplace of small business transfers in Sweden with the help of a field experiment on the Internet. Sweden is a suitable testing ground for this since Sweden has a fairly large immigrant population. If we can document ethnic discrimination in the marketplace for small business transfers, we have identified a barrier to ethnic self-employment and can offer one explanation for the difficulties in self-employment that are encountered by ethnic minorities. 3 We conducted our field experiment by having two fictitious prospective buyers, one with a typical Swedish name and one with a typical Arab/Muslim name, respond to online advertisements for small business transfers in Sweden. Our outcome variable was the number of contacts that each buyer achieved from sellers. We found that sellers discriminated against buyers with an Arab/Muslim name in the sense that Arab/Muslim buyers obtained fewer contacts with sellers than did buyers with a Swedish name. 3 See, e.g., Borjas and Bronars (1989). 3

4 2 Methodology Pairs of fictitious prospective buyers, an Arab/Muslim male and a Swedish male, used similar approaches to establish a contact with sellers who had advertised their businesses on the Internet. Hence, our test measured differences in contact rates between the Arab/Muslim and the Swedish buyer. The experiment was carried out in September and October, During this period we responded to all advertisements with small businesses for sale on Blocket.se. This is one of the largest buy-and-sell sites in Sweden, where the marketplace for business transfers is an active segment. Business owners can announce their businesses for a negligible advertisement cost and there is no charge for interested buyers to respond to an ad. If a buyer is interested in a particular item, he or she can send a message to the seller through an form. The only information that is required is his or her name, address, and a short message of interest. Thus, the purpose of this website is to initiate a first contact between sellers and prospective buyers. Without any restrictions regarding location and price, we responded, as an Arab/Muslim buyer and as a Swedish buyer, to all advertised businesses during the period. We recorded the time, date, heading of the ad, city, the gender of the seller, whether the seller had a foreignsounding name, and the selling price. As outcome variables we recorded whether or not sellers ed back. If they ed back, we also recorded whether the sellers were positive (invited further contact and asked for more information about the buyer). Before we could run the experiment, we created identities for fictitious Arab/Muslim and Swedish buyers. There was no need for telephone numbers and postal addresses since all 4

5 correspondence was conducted through . For the Arab/Muslim buyer we used the name Mohammed Rashid, and for the Swedish buyer we used the name Fredrik Svensson. We then registered addresses for the sellers. 4 Another important part in the experimental design was to generate response letters. In order to have both buyers respond to all ads and minimize the risk of exposure, we generated three versions of a response letter with similar content. We put together concise letters expressing interest. One of the letters was formulated as follows: Hi, my name is Mohammed Rashid (Fredrik Svensson). I saw your advertisement of a business transfer. It sounds interesting and I would like to establish further contact with you. Look forward to your response. Mohammed Rashid (Fredrik Svensson) The only difference between the buyers was whether they were Arab/Muslim or Swedish. 5 Obviously, the two buyers never responded to the same ad with identical letters. Each of three formulations was used 1/3 of the time for each buyer. We also controlled for the order of the responses from our two buyers. Thus, half of the time the Arab/Muslim buyer was first to respond to an ad and half of the time the Swedish buyer was first. 3 Results Both of our fictitious buyers responded to 546 ads. Table 1 presents the average contact rates for the Arab/Muslim buyer and for the Swedish buyer (in percentages). Included in brackets 4 accounts were created under the addresses and 5 The other two response letters are available from the authors upon request. 5

6 beside each rate is the actual number of cases out of the 546. The first row in Table 1 (Contact) presents the percentage of responses that resulted in a contact, whether positive or negative. The second row (Positive contact) gives the percentage of responses that resulted in a positive contact from the seller (where the seller invited our buyers to further contact). Table 1 shows that the Arab/Muslim buyer had a 67% chance that his responses to sellers ads would result in a contact. The corresponding percentage for the Swedish buyer was about 76%. Similarly, 65% of the Arab/Muslim buyer s responses and 74% of the Swedish buyer s responses led to a positive contact. The paired differences test rejects the null hypothesis of no ethnic discrimination in the market of small business transfers at better than the 0.1 percent level. Table 1 Percent (fraction) of responses that led to a contact and percent (fraction) of responses that led to a positive contact Arab/Muslim Swedish Ratio Paired difference test Contact p < (368/546) (412/546) (412/368) Positive contact p < (353/546) (403/546) (403/353) The p values are reported for a two-sided paired sample t test for differences in average contact and positive contact rates. In Table 2, we calculated the percentage of sellers that did not contact either of the buyers (the column None), the percentage of sellers that contacted both of the buyers (the column Both), the percentage of sellers that only contacted the Arab/Muslim buyers (the column Arab/Muslim), and the percentage of sellers that only contacted the Swedish buyer (the column Swedish). What is of interest in Table 2 is to observe if there is symmetry between the proportion of sellers that only contacted the Arab/Muslim buyer and the proportion of sellers that only contacted the Swedish buyer. If p a and p s, respectively, equal the probabilities that 6

7 the sellers only contacted the Arab/Muslim and the Swedish buyer, then the null hypothesis of symmetric treatment is p s /(p s + p a ) = ½. Table 2 Distribution of contact rates in percent (number of cases within parentheses) None Both Only Arab/Muslim Only Swedish Symmetry test Contact p < (103/546) (337/546) (31/546) (75/546) Positive contact p = (7/337) (321/337) (2/337) (7/337) The p values are reported for a two-sided McNemar test of symmetry between the proportion of sellers that favored the Arab/Muslim buyer and the proportion that favored the Swedish buyer. We also conducted the binomial sign test, resulting in the same p values. As Table 2 indicates, we reject the hypothesis of symmetry for the outcome variable Contact but not for Positive contacts. This suggests that discrimination against Arab/Muslim buyers occurred in the first stage, meaning that sellers who discriminated against Arab/Muslim buyers simply ignored the responses from the Arab/Muslim buyers. Sellers who chose to contact both buyers did not discriminate against Arab/Muslim buyers in respect to positive contacts. 4 Conclusions This paper has investigated whether the process of buying and taking over a small business places ethnic minorities at a disadvantage. A field experiment on the Internet in Sweden was conducted in which we had two fictitious prospective buyers, one with a typical Swedish name and one with a typical Arab/Muslim name, respond to advertisements of small business transfers. Our outcome variables were the number of contacts and positive contacts that each fictitious buyer achieved with sellers. We found that Arab/Muslim buyers obtained fewer 7

8 contacts with sellers than did Swedish buyers in the experiment. This result suggests that ethnic minorities may face difficulties and discrimination in the marketplace of small business transfers. This also leads to the conclusion that ethnic minorities have difficulties succeeding in self-employment. 8

9 References Borjas, G.J. (1986), The self-employment experience of immigrants, Journal of Human Resources, 21, Borjas, G. J. and Bronars, S. G. (1989), Consumer discrimination and self-employment, Journal of Political Economy, 97, Bonacich, E. (1973), A theory of middleman minorities, American Sociological Review, 38, Clark, K. and Drinkwater, S. (2000), Pushed out or pulled in? Self-employment among ethnic minorities in England and Wales, Labour Economics, 7, Fairlie, R.W. and Meyer B.D. (1996), Ethnic and racial self-employment differences and possible explanations, Journal of Human Resources, 31, Frazier, E.F. (1957), The Negro in the United States. Macmillan. New York. Hammarstedt, M. (2006), The predicted earnings differential and immigrant selfemployment in Sweden Applied Economics, 38, Kinzer, R.H. & Sagarin, E. (1950), The Negro in American Business; The Conflict between Separatism and Integration. Greenberg. New York. 9

10 Light, I. (1972), Ethnic enterprise in America. University of California Press. Berkeley. Light, I. (1984), Immigrant and ethnic enterprise in North America. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 7, Moore, R. L. (1983), Employer Discrimination: Evidence from Self-Employed Workers, Review of Economics and Statistics, 65, Yuengert, A. M. (1995), Testing Hypotheses of Immigrant Self-Employment, Journal of Human Resources, 30,

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