This paper examines the role of institutional variables in determining the large disparities observed in self-employment rates across OECD countries. Our findings suggest that a large public sector reduces the scope for independent work, while high levels of product market regulation are positively associated with the self-employment rate. In countries with high levels of perceived corruption, a high tax and social contribution wedge fosters self-employment, probably because independent work makes it easier to evade tax and social contribution. Cross-country, time-series data show that taxation has an opposite impact in the other countries. The case of Italy, which stands out among developed countries for its large selfemployment rate, is analysed in some detail in the concluding section, providing examples of the importance of the identified institutional variables in fostering self-employment.