Data from the NLSY show that more than a quarter of all younger men experience
some period of self-employment. Many of them return to wage work. This paper
analyzes a simple model of job search and self-employment where self-employment
provides an alternative source of income for unemployed workers. Self-employment is
distinct from wage sector employment in two important respects. First, self-employment
is a low-income, low-variation alternative to wage work. Second, once a worker enters
self-employment, he loses eligibility to receive unemployment insurance benefits—at
least until he returns to wage sector employment. The model suggests that flows into
self-employment are countercyclical and flows out of self-employment are procyclical.
Data from the NLSY for males at least 21 years of age are used to investigate how
demographic and economic variables influence the decision to become self-employed.
Fixed effects and random effects logit results indicate that young men are more likely to
be self-employed when their wage work opportunities are more limited. Specifically,
higher local unemployment rates lead workers to self-select into self-employment, as
does past unemployment experience. The process is different for Whites and Nonwhites
with education being irrelevant for White self-employed workers. In contrast, for
Nonwhites higher education reduces the probability of entering self-employment.