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Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records

  • Paarsch, Harry J
  • Shearer, Bruce

We develop and estimate an agency model of worker behavior under piece rates and fixed wages. The model implies optimal decision rules for the firm's choice of a compensation system as a function of working conditions. Our model also implies an upper and lower bound to the incentive effect (the productivity gain realized by paying workers piece rates rather than fixed wages) that can be estimated using regression methods. Using daily productivity data collected from the payroll records of a British Columbia tree-planting firm, we estimate these bounds to be an 8.8 and a 60.4 percent increase in productivity. Structural estimation, which accounts for the firm's optimal choice of a compensation system, suggests that incentives caused a 22.6 percent increase in productivity. However, only part of this increase represents valuable output because workers respond to incentives, in part, by reducing quality. Copyright 2000 by Economics Department of the University of Pennsylvania and the Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association.

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Article provided by Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association in its journal International Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 41 (2000)
Issue (Month): 1 (February)
Pages: 59-92

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Handle: RePEc:ier:iecrev:v:41:y:2000:i:1:p:59-92
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  1. Edward P. Lazear, 1996. "Performance Pay and Productivity," NBER Working Papers 5672, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1987. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(2), pages 303-28, March.
  3. Sanford Grossman & Oliver Hart, . "An Analysis of the Principal-Agent Problem," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 15-80, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  4. Christopher Ferrall & Bruce S. Shearer, 1994. "Incentives, Team Production, Transaction Costs and the Optimal Contract: Estimates of an Agency Model using Payroll Records," CIRANO Working Papers 94s-12, CIRANO.
  5. Charles Brown, 1990. "Firms' choice of method of pay," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 43(3), pages 165-182, February.
  6. Oliver Hart & Bengt Holmstrom, 1986. "The Theory of Contracts," Working papers 418, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  7. Lazear, Edward P, 1986. "Salaries and Piece Rates," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 405-31, July.
  8. Jones, Derek C & Kato, Takao, 1995. "The Productivity Effects of Employee Stock-Ownership Plans and Bonuses: Evidence from Japanese Panel Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 391-414, June.
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