The rate of business failures is widely quoted but is little understood. This study reviews the availability and usefulness of data on business failures and discusses the major determinants of fluctuations in the business failure rate. It shows that the age distribution of the population of firms is the largest determinant of failures and that the rate of failure has only a small countercyclical fluctuation. The study documents a substantial decline in the rate of failures between 1962 and 1979 and a smaller increase after 1980. The evidence presented suggests that the long decline is caused by the fall in failure rates in certain states and that part of the increase during the 1980s is due to changes in Dun & Bradstreet's data collection procedures. Copyright 1991 Western Economic Association International.
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