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After Inception: How Enduring is Job Creation by Startups?

The majority of the employment startups generate remains as new firms age, creating a lasting impact on the economy, according to this study.

Michael Horrell and Robert Litan
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation


We analyze a Business Dynamics Statistics (BDS) dataset broken out by firm age to determine how total employment in startups changes as startups age. Conventional thinking on employment from startups is that many of the new jobs created by startups evaporate over the course of just a few years as firms exit the market. By tracking cohorts of firms started from 1977–2000, we find this to not be the case. While many firms exit over the life of each cohort (destroying jobs), other firms also grow (creating jobs). This growth in employment partially balances out the jobs lost by closing and shrinking firms. We also look at how recessions affect employment in these cohorts of firms. We find that starting a firm during a recession does not affect employment levels five years later, but cohorts of firms exposed to prolonged recessions did experience significantly lower employment levels.

Key Findings

  • Cohorts of firms started each year retain, on average, 80 percent of their initial total employment to age five.
  • Older cohorts of firms exhibit increasingly higher employment retention rates over five years, but these rates are not substantially higher than those of new startup cohorts.
  • Cohorts that start during a recession hire fewer people in the first few years following their birth, but they catch back up to the same levels of employment at age five.
  • Prolonged recessions, on the other hand, appear to lower employment among cohorts. Cohorts at age five that had survived through portions of three recession years had roughly 10 percent less employment (as compared to their startup years) than cohorts of firms that encountered no recessions in their first five years.