Document Type



family firms; zero-leverage; debt; capital structure

Identifier Data


Emerald Publishing Limited

Rights Management

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited


Purpose – The purpose of the study is to examine the zero-leverage (ZL) phenomenon in family and non-family firms.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors consider three hypotheses and empirically test them using a sample of the largest US firms over the 2001–2016 period.

Findings – The authors find that, on average, 19.20% of family firms have zero debt vs 10.42% for non-family firms. The authors also find that family firms strategically choose to be ZL to maintain financial flexibility for future investments and exercise control over the decision-making process, consistent with the hypotheses of financial flexibility and control considerations. However, non-family firms are more likely to have zero debt if they have financial constraints and the credit market does not lend them money at affordable credit rates, consistent with the financial constraint hypothesis.

Originality/value – This paper contributes to different strands of literature. First, the authors contribute to the literature examining family firms’ financial decisions. Second, the authors complement previous studies by exploring the reasons for the ZL behavior of family firms compared to non-family firms. The authors also examine the previously unexplored impact of ownership concentration on the ZL question.

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Finance Commons