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The Peter Principle: An Experiment

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  • Dickinson, David

    ()
    (Appalachian State University)

  • Villeval, Marie Claire

    ()
    (CNRS, GATE)

Abstract

The Peter Principle states that, after a promotion, the observed output of promoted employees tends to fall. Lazear (2004) models this principle as resulting from a regression to the mean of the transitory component of ability. Our experiment reproduces this model in the laboratory by means of various treatments in which we alter the variance of the transitory ability. We also compare the efficiency of an exogenous promotion standard with a treatment where subjects self-select their task. Our evidence confirms the Peter Principle when the variance of the transitory ability is large. In most cases, the efficiency of job allocation is higher when using a promotion rule than when employees are allowed to self-select their task. This is likely due to subjects’ bias regarding their transitory ability. Naïve thinking, more than optimism/pessimism bias, may explain why subjects do not distort their effort prior to promotion, contrary to Lazear’s (2004) prediction.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3205.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3205

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Keywords: Peter Principle; promotion; experiment; sorting;

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  1. Eric Van den Steen, 2004. "Rational Overoptimism (and Other Biases)," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1141-1151, September.
  2. Koch, Alexander K. & Nafziger, Julia, 2007. "Job Assignments under Moral Hazard: The Peter Principle Revisited," IZA Discussion Papers 2973, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Edward P. Lazear, 2004. "The Peter Principle: A Theory of Decline," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S141-S163, February.
  4. Meyer, Margaret A, 1991. "Learning from Coarse Information: Biased Contests and Career Profiles," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(1), pages 15-41, January.
  5. Bernhardt, Dan, 1995. "Strategic Promotion and Compensation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(2), pages 315-39, April.
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