Is it 15 percent or 35 percent?

In this corner we have:

“If you were laid-off, how would you find a job?” [“by starting your own business” being one of the choices]

Coming in as a follow-up question (just in case), we have:

“Would you consider starting your own business if you were to lose your job?”

If you were interested in studying entrepreneurship, which question would you ask? I deal with this all the time but have rarely been given such a perfect example of how question form and timing can impact response. For today’s example, we’ll be drawing from a new poll out from the European Commission
 
The European Commission has an ongoing set of public opinion polling surveys that it completes on different topics called the Eurobarometer. This particular poll was looking at household level opinions using a sample of about 26,700. It is topically interesting and of timely importance as it is dealing with employment and social policy in the EU. Given the crisis of confidence that continues to engulf the continent, it is amazing to me how optimistic most of the respondents come across. But I will let readers examine that topic themselves. 
 
I am going to focus on the two questions raised at the top of my post, both trying to get at how people in the EU view starting a business as a hypothetical choice if laid-off. These questions should be seen as a compliment to some of the other more in-depth Eurobarometers on this subject. The authors of the survey must have felt strongly on the topic as they asked about the subject in two very different ways. 
 
The first ask of currently employed respondents was: “If you were laid-off, how would you find a job?” Here about 15 percent of respondents who were currently employed reported they would start a business (with or without employees). This comes in near the bottom of options given with predictably high numbers of people applying for a similar job in their same locations (48 percent). 
 
So while respondents were free to choose up to two directions of what they would do if they lost a job, the authors went back to those who had not indicated they would start a business and asked directly: “Would you consider starting your own business if your were to lose your job?” A full 24 percent of those who had not previously indicated they would start a business now include it in their possible reactions to being laid-off. If I am doing my math correctly, this works out to about 20 percent of the overall sample that is currently employed, more than the entire group which chose starting a business in the first question. 
 
So which is it? Fifteen percent or 35 percent (the two added together)? To me, the first question is the more reliable. It gives several choices (including I don’t know) and seems to get more at what people would initially try if laid-off. The second question seems to tease out what people might do if they really had to – the reluctant potential entrepreneurs. 
 
This is a great example of how question format can influence results. By asking the question explicitly and not as a part of a multiple choice response, the rate of possible business start-up, if laid-off, doubles. This type of choice is made all the time by people designing surveys, but we often don’t know the bias it might introduce. Hopefully in sharing this example others will see (or be able to test) how some of their responses might be influenced by these design issues. 
 
One other thing which is different in this Eurobarometer survey vs. many past is the treatment of starting a business being different from becoming self-employed. These are slightly different concepts and here the European Commission seems to be starting to realize that. That’s a good development for this program and one I hope will spread. 

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e.j. reedy data maven

E. J. Reedy

As a director in Research and Policy, E.J. Reedy oversees the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s research initiatives related to education, human capital development, and data.

Since joining the Kauffman Foundation in 2003, Reedy has been significantly involved in the coordination of the Foundation’s entrepreneurship and innovation data-related initiatives, including the Kauffman Firm Survey, for which he served as a principal investigator, and the Foundation’s multi-year series of symposiums on data, as well as many web-related projects and initiatives. He is a globally recognized expert in entrepreneurship and innovation measurement and has consulted for a variety of agencies.