A systematic assessment of the empirical support for transaction cost economics


  • Robert J. David,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
    • Faculty of Management, McGill University, 1001 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, PQ, Canada H3A 1G5.
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  • Shin-Kap Han

    1. Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, U.S.A.
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Transaction cost economics (TCE) is one of the leading perspectives in management and organizational studies, yet debate continues regarding its empirical support. In this paper, we take stock of the large body of extant research and provide a systematic assessment of empirical evidence. In all, 308 statistical tests from 63 articles, selected according to a set of clear criteria, were examined across various dimensions. We assess not only the level of empirical support for the theory, but also the degree of paradigm consensus present in the empirical literature. Our analysis shows that results are mixed: while we found support in some areas (e.g., with regard to asset specificity), we also found considerable disagreement on how to operationalize some of TCE's central constructs and propositions, and relatively low levels of empirical support in other core areas (e.g., surrounding uncertainty and performance). We conclude that a more thorough empirical grounding of the theory's foundation is crucial to its future development, and offer several strategies for doing this. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.