Understanding firm exit: a systematic literature review

Elena Cefis*, Cristina Bettinelli, Alex Coad, Orietta Marsili

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


We investigate the corpus of literature on firm exit by means of a systematic literature review (SLR) which yields a final sample of 142 journal articles for the period 1991–2020. The phenomenon of firm exit is explored from a variety of perspectives: business exit; exit at the individual entrepreneur level; exit from specific markets; exit from foreign markets; and the role of exit for industrial dynamics conceived more broadly. Special attention is given to the various exit routes, including voluntary liquidation, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), initial public offerings (IPO), and of course bankruptcy. The SLR sets the scene for the Special Issue papers that are presented towards the end, and we conclude with some suggestions for future research. The Plain English Summary This article develops a systematic literature review around three decades of firm exit research, patterns, developments, and intriguing gaps. In this paper, we systematically review 142 studies on firm exit from various perspectives, identify major patterns, and outline the debate around firm exit. We propose reflections useful for scholars willing to engage in firm exit research in the future and set the scene for the special issue papers. Overall, this work shows the remarkable progress made in the area of firm exit that has evolved from the view of exit as a homogenous event signaling failure to a vision of exit as a heterogenous event. Exploring the sources of heterogeneity of exits from various perspectives could offer promising paths for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-446
Number of pages24
JournalSmall Business Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Aug


  • Bankruptcy
  • Closure
  • Exit routes
  • Firm exit
  • Industrial dynamics
  • M&A
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business,Management and Accounting
  • Economics and Econometrics


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