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Understanding why some firms survive while others fail is a central question of strategic management research. Indeed, many consider survival the quintessential indicator of firm performance. As such, survival research is vast, but also frustratingly disjointed across several thematic areas in the organizational literature. In this review of firm survival and failure, we organize this research across three stages of firm development: new ventures, single-business units and diversified firms. We therefore add order to the diverse survival literatures and clarify how scholars' conceptualizations of survival differ. Notably, different streams' conceptualization of survival reflect a multi-faceted construct including three dimensions: operations, ownership and solvency. Identifying these dimensions provides a lens that adds clarity when reviewing the literature as well as important richness to better situate future work on survival and failure. In addition, we highlight outdated assumptions prevalent in this research, which have further limited the theoretical development of survival and failure. This review also sheds light on the timely question: "who benefits or suffers from survival and failure?", as scholars and policymakers alike seek to understand factors that promote entrepreneurial activity and grapple at the other end of the spectrum with "too big to fail" policies.
- Received October 1, 2015.
- Revision received January 25, 2017.
- Accepted February 20, 2017.