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Identity and the Economics of Organizations

  • George A. Akerlof
  • Rachel E. Kranton

The economics of organizations is replete with the pitfalls of monetary rewards and punishments to motivate workers. If economic incentives do not work, what does? This paper proposes that workers' self-image as jobholders, coupled with their ideal as to how their job should be done, can be a major work incentive. It shows how such identities can flatten reward schedules, as they solve "principal-agent" problem. The paper also identifies and explores a new tradeoff: supervisors may provide information to principals, but create rifts within the workforce and reduce employees' intrinsic work incentives. We motivate the theory with examples from the classic sociology of military and civilian organizations.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/0895330053147930
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 19 (2005)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 9-32

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:19:y:2005:i:1:p:9-32
Note: DOI: 10.1257/0895330053147930
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References listed on IDEAS
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  1. Asch, Beth J & Warner, John T, 2001. "A Theory of Compensation and Personnel Policy in Hierarchical Organizations with Application to the United States Military," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(3), pages 523-62, July.
  2. Auriol, Emmanuelle & Renault, Régis, 2000. "The Costs and Benefits of Symbolic Differentiation in the Work Place," IDEI Working Papers 101, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse, revised 2002.
  3. Frey, Bruno S & Jegen, Reto, 2001. " Motivation Crowding Theory," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 589-611, December.
  4. Huck, Steffen & Kübler, Dorothea & Weibull, Jörgen W., 2010. "Social Norms and Economic Incentives in Firms," IZA Discussion Papers 5264, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Gibbons, Robert & Waldman, Michael, 1999. "Careers in organizations: Theory and evidence," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 36, pages 2373-2437 Elsevier.
  6. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
  7. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L, 1990. "The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 255-83, May.
  8. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2002. "Identity and Schooling: Some Lessons for the Economics of Education," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1167-1201, December.
  9. Kandel, Eugene & Lazear, Edward P, 1992. "Peer Pressure and Partnerships," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 801-17, August.
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