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On the Relative Efficiency of Performance Pay and Social Incentives

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  • Uri Gneezy
  • Pedro Rey-Biel

Abstract

In contrast to the simplifying assumption of selfishness, social incentives have been shown to play a role in economic interactions. Before incorporating social incentives into models and policies, however, one needs to know their efficiency relative to standard pay-for-performance incentives. We report evidence from a large field experiment comparing the effectiveness of contingent and non-contingent (“social”) incentives in eliciting costly effort. The company with which we worked sent 7,250 letters asking customers to complete a survey. Some letters contained cash amounts ranging from $1 to $30, whereas others promised to pay upon compliance. We compare the response rates and cost effectiveness of these contingent and social incentives with each other and with a no-incentives control. In line with previous findings, we find that social incentives generated some effort: small amounts increased the response rate with respect to the control, but the size of the reward had a relatively minor effect. In contrast, the response rate for contingent incentives was low for small amounts but increased rapidly as incentives increased. Importantly, for (almost) any given response rate social incentives were more costly than contingent incentives.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Barcelona Graduate School of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 585.

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Date of creation: Oct 2011
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Handle: RePEc:bge:wpaper:585

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Keywords: contingent incentives; gift exchange;

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References

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  1. Matthias Benz & Stephan Meier, 2006. "Do people behave in experiments as in the field?: evidence from donations," Working Papers 06-8, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  2. Uri Gneezy & John List, 2006. "Putting behavioral economics to work: Testing for gift exchange in labor markets using field experiments," Natural Field Experiments 00259, The Field Experiments Website.
  3. John A. List, 2006. "The Behavioralist Meets the Market: Measuring Social Preferences and Reputation Effects in Actual Transactions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(1), pages 1-37, February.
  4. Charness, Gary B, 2004. "Attribution And Reciprocity In An Experimental Labor Market," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt8rp6b18c, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  5. S. Dellavigna., 2011. "Psychology and Economics: Evidence from the Field," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 4.
  6. Ernst Fehr & Simon G�chter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 159-181, Summer.
  7. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
  8. Akerlof, George A, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-69, November.
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Cited by:
  1. Mirco Tonin & Michael Vlassopoulos, 2013. "Social Incentives Matter: Evidence from an Online Real Effort Experiment," Working Papers 2013.05, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.

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