Public Company Audits and City-Specific Labor Characteristics

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Journal Article
Contemporary Accounting Research, 2018, 35 (1), pp. 394 - 433
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© CAAA Prior research emphasizes the centrality of audit offices in understanding auditing practices, and documents significant interoffice variation in audit outcomes based on industry expertise and office size. Our study examines how two city-specific labor characteristics also affect audit offices and local audit markets: the city's average educational attainment, and the number of accountants in a city, which proxy for a city's human capital. Our argument draws on the urban economics literature and predicts that the level of human capital in a city is positively associated with an audit office's ability to conduct high-quality audits. As expected, there is a positive association between audit quality (quality of audited earnings and accuracy of going-concern reports) and average education level in the city in which the lead engagement office is located. This association is generally significant for both Big 4 and non-Big 4 offices, but is relatively stronger for non-Big 4 firms that are more tied to local labor markets. A company is also more likely to choose a non-Big 4 auditor in cities with higher educational levels and relatively more accountants, and there is evidence of higher non-Big 4 audit fees as a city's education level increases. Collectively, these results suggest that local labor characteristics affect audit offices, audit quality, and the ability of non-Big 4 auditors to compete with Big 4 auditors in the audits of public companies.
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