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On the Elasticity of Effort for Piece Rates: Evidence from the British Columbia Tree-Planting Industry

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  • Paarsch, Harry J.
  • Shearer, Bruce S.

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Abstract

If policy prescriptions for compensation systems are to be useful, then they must be based on the empirical analysis of incentive effects; i.e., the elasticity of worker effort with respect to changes in the compensation system. We measure the elasticity of worker effort with respect to changes in the piece rate using panel data collected from the payroll records of a British Columbia tree-planting firm. Our data contain information on daily worker productivity and the piece rate received over a five-month period. We highlight the endogeneity problems inherent in traditional empirical analyses of compensation systems. In particular, employing regression methods, which use the sample covariance between piece rates and daily productivity to identify the incentive effect, we consistently estimate the elasticity of effort with respect to changes it the piece rate to be negative. Using a structural model to control for the endogeneity of the piece rate, we estimate this elasticity to be approximately 2.2. Structural estimation also allows us to perform policy experiments and to compare firm profits under alternative compensation systems. Our results suggest that profits would increase by at least 17 percent were the firm to implement the optimal contract as predicted by principal-agent theory.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Université Laval - Département d'économique in its series Cahiers de recherche with number 9713.

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Date of creation: 1997
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Handle: RePEc:lvl:laeccr:9713

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  1. Paarsch, Harry J & Shearer, Bruce, 2000. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(1), pages 59-92, February.
  2. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1991. "Multitask Principal-Agent Analyses: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership, and Job Design," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(0), pages 24-52, Special I.
  3. Claudia Goldin, 1985. "Monitoring Costs and Occupational Segregation by Sex: An Historical Analysis," NBER Working Papers 1560, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Edward P. Lazear, 2000. "Performance Pay and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1346-1361, December.
  5. Oliver Hart & Bengt Holmstrom, 1986. "The Theory of Contracts," Working papers 418, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  6. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 841-64, October.
  7. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  8. Daniel Parent, 1999. "Methods of pay and earnings: A longitudinal analysis," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 53(1), pages 71-86, October.
  9. Ferrall, Christopher & Shearer, Bruce, 1999. "Incentives and Transactions Costs within the Firm: Estimating an Agency Model Using Payroll Records," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(2), pages 309-38, April.
  10. Baker, George P, 1992. "Incentive Contracts and Performance Measurement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 598-614, June.
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