Empirics in Family Business Research: Progress, Challenges, and the Path Ahead

(Authors: Robert E. Evert, John A. Martin, Michael S. McLeod, and G. Tyge Payne)

Research Applied précis prepared by Nava Michael-Tsabari, The Raya Strauss Center for Family Business Research, Tel Aviv University, Israel

This study’s purpose is to assess the state of empirical research to account for the past as well as guide future research efforts. The term “empirics” refers to the practice of basing ideas, conclusions, or theories on testing, observation, or experience—providing a common language and a legitimizing indicator for scholars across fields. Empirics, including methodological (i.e., the process of collecting data and information) and analytical (i.e., systematic examination of data or statistical approach) practices, play a key role in the forging of a field’s distinct position among established academic areas of interest.

This review makes three key contributions:

  • It provides a comprehensive review of the methodologies and analytics used in family business research by analyzing all empirical studies in the Family Business Review (FBR) since its inception in 1988.
  • It helps clarify and legitimize progress by juxtaposing articles published in FBR to those family business studies published in other high-quality journals that are not dedicated to family business.
  • The authors identify distinct empirical challenges in family business research and provide suggestions to scholars regarding where future research can be focused in order to better advance the field.

Specifically, the authors consider how family business research can be improved by directing more attention to five general problematic areas identified in their review (Table 5):

  • construct validity and reliability
  • generalizability
  • causality
  • temporality
  • multilevel issues.

Then, they extensively discuss empirical issues and opportunities relative to the six most prominent topical areas of research that appeared in their review (Table 6). Since each of these areas of research (management of the firm, business performance and growth, characteristics and attributes, interpersonal family dynamics, succession, and governance) tends to focus on unique research questions and theoretical perspectives, the authors give specific attention to the empirics contained therein.

Over the 27-year time span of the review, there has been a notable increase in the number of published empirical articles. This change suggests the increasing importance of empirical research to FBR, not simply in terms of relative numbers of articles published but the overall analytical sophistication in a given article. Furthermore, because paper submissions have increased substantially over time, along with the number of outlets publishing family business research, the field is becoming increasingly competitive, which should indicate and give way to improvements in overall quality.

As evidenced by their results, the mounting sophistication and complexity of the empirics used in family business research is an important element that contributes to the overall growth and legitimacy of the field. The authors encourage more efforts to attend to issues of construct validity and reliability in family business research, but particularly in terms of how the family and its influences are accounted for across a highly heterogeneous group of firms. Along with the challenges discussed, several more specific suggestions regarding generalizability, causality, temporality and multilevel considerations have been made. On the whole, great improvements in empirics over time are documented, which has brought about legitimacy and significant advancement of the field.

Although this article is more applicable to researchers, it should also give practitioners greater assurance that the research that is being produced is well done and will have applicability to the family businesses that practitioners work with. It is recommended that practitioners listen to the podcast with one of the authors of this article. The authors had several good comments for practitioners.

Read the complete article here.

About the contributor

Nava Michael-Tsabari is director of The Raya Strauss Center for Family Business Research, Tel Aviv University, Israel. She is the recipient of the 2015 FBR Best Article Award and the 2012 Best Unpublished Research Paper Award. Nava can be reached at [email protected].