External Social Networks and Earnings Management
Using a sample of U.S. listed firms for the 2000–2017 period, we examine how external social networks of top executives and directors affect earnings management in their firms. We find that well-connected firms are more aggressive in managing earnings through both accruals and real activities and that the results are robust after controlling for internal executive social ties. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that earnings management decreases after a socially connected executive or director dies. Additional analysis shows that connections forged by past professional working experiences have a greater impact on earnings management than connections forged by education and other social activities. Moreover, CFO social networks have a greater influence on earnings management than CEO social networks. Finally, we explore the underlying mechanisms, finding that 1) firms that are socially connected to each other show more similarities in their earnings management than firms that do not share a connection, and 2) more connected firms are less likely to incur accounting restatements. Collectively, our findings indicate that the external social networks of top executives and directors are important determinants of both their accrual- and real activity-based earnings management.