Earnings management and managerial ownership in private firms

Steve O’Callaghan*, John Ashton, Lynn Hodgkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate two related questions. First, is earnings management behaviour in private firms related to managerial ownership and if so, what form does the relationship take. Second, is there evidence of opportunistic earnings management behaviour in private firms. Design/methodology/approach: This study uses univariate and multivariate (regression) methodologies to examine the association between managerial ownership and earnings management in private firms. The study employs a data set of 1,223 large private UK firms. Findings: Evidence is presented indicating opportunistic earnings management behaviour in private firms. Specifically, firms with low managerial ownership appear to engage in more earnings management when faced with poor performance. Further, when firms report income-increasing discretionary accruals, the magnitude of abnormal accruals varies non-linearly with managerial ownership. Research limitations/implications: This study is limited by availability of data on sample firm ownership. This study uses cross-sectional data due to these limitations. Further research could investigate the relationships between earnings management and classes of shareholders other than managers in private firms. Practical implications: Policy implications of this work suggest that non-managing shareholders in private firms face considerable agency costs, in particular where managerial ownership is very low or very high. Originality/value: Pervasiveness of earnings management in private firms compared to public firms is well documented in the literature. There is limited extant research on the relationship between ownership structure and earnings management in private firms. The novel aspect of this study is to present findings on the association between this behaviour, managerial ownership and firm performance in private firms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-668
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Applied Accounting Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Discretionary accruals
  • Earnings management
  • Managerial ownership
  • Private firms

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