Research project examining the measurement of profits in around 180 household-based retail trade micro-enterprises in the Kandy district.


Research Publications

“Measuring Microenterprise Profits: Don’t ask how the sausage is made”

A large share of the World's poor is self-employed. Accurate measurement of profits from microenterprises is therefore critical for studying poverty and inequality, measuring the returns to education, and evaluating the success of microfinance programs.

However, a myriad of problems plague the measurement of profits. This paper reports on a variety of different experiments conducted to better understand the importance of some of these problems, and to draw recommendations for collecting profit data.

In particular, we (i) examine how far we can reconcile self-reported profits and reports of revenue minus expenses through more detailed questions; (ii) examine recall errors in sales, and report on the results of experiments which randomly allocated account books to firms; and (iii) asked firms how much firms like theirs under-report sales in surveys like ours, and had research assistants observe the firms at random times 15–16 times during a month to provide measures for comparison. We conclude that firms under-report revenues by about 30%, that account diaries have significant impacts on both revenues and expenses, but not on profits, and that simply asking profits provides a more accurate measure of firm profits than detailed questions on revenues and expenses.

Published in Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 88, Issue 1, January 2009, pp. 19-31.

Previous version of the paper is available as:

(1) World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No 4229, May 2007 (direct link to paper: ), and

(2) BREAD Working Paper No. 143, March 2007, downloadable from: