Socioemotional wealth and business risks in family-controlled firms: Evidence from Spanish olive oil mills

Luis Gomez-Mejia, Katalin Takács Haynes, Manuel Núñez-Nickel, Kathyrn J L Jacobson, José Moyano-Fuentes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2351 Scopus citations


This paper challenges the prevalent notion that family-owned firms are more risk averse than publicly owned firms. Using behavioral theory, we argue that for family firms, the primary reference point is the loss of their socioemotional wealth, and to avoid those losses, family firms are willing to accept a significant risk to their performance; yet at the same time, they avoid risky business decisions that might aggravate that risk. Thus, we propose that the predictions of behavioral theory differ depending on family ownership. We confirm our hypotheses using a population of 1,237 family-owned olive oil mills in Southern Spain who faced the choice during a 54-year period of becoming a member of a cooperative, a decision associated with loss of family control but lower business risk, or remaining independent, which preserves the family's socioemotional wealth but greatly increases its performance hazard. As shown in this study, family firms may be risk willing and risk averse at the same time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-137
Number of pages32
JournalAdministrative Science Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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