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On The Relevance And Composition Of Gifts Within The Firm: Evidence From Field Experiments


  • Charles Bellemare
  • Bruce Shearer


We investigate the economic relevance and the composition of gifts within a firm where output is contractible. We develop a structural econometric model that identifies workers’ optimal reaction to monetary gifts received from their employer. We estimate the model using data from two separate field experiments, both conducted within a tree-planting firm. We use the estimated structural parameters to generalize beyond the experiment, simulating how workers would react to different gifts on the part of the firm, within different labour-market settings. We find that gifts have a role to play within this firm, increasing in importance when the workers’ outside alternatives deteriorate. Profit-maximizing gifts would increase profits within slack labour markets by up to 10% on average and by up to 17% for certain types of workers. These gifts represent significant increases in worker earnings; the average gift paid to workers attains 22% of average expected earnings in the absence of gifts. We find that gifts should be given by setting piece-rates above the market-clearing level rather than through fixed wages.
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Suggested Citation

  • Charles Bellemare & Bruce Shearer, 2011. "On The Relevance And Composition Of Gifts Within The Firm: Evidence From Field Experiments," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 52(3), pages 855-882, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:ier:iecrev:v:52:y:2011:i:3:p:855-882 DOI: j.1468-2354.2011.00652.x

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fehr, Ernst & Falk, Armin, 2002. "Psychological foundations of incentives," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(4-5), pages 687-724, May.
    2. Ernst Fehr & Georg Kirchsteiger & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(2), pages 437-459.
    3. Paarsch, Harry J. & Shearer, Bruce S., 2009. "The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(5), pages 481-494, July.
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    6. Kenneth I. Wolpin & Petra E. Todd, 2006. "Assessing the Impact of a School Subsidy Program in Mexico: Using a Social Experiment to Validate a Dynamic Behavioral Model of Child Schooling and Fertility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1384-1417, December.
    7. Jeremy Lise & Shannon Seitz & Jeffrey Smith, 2015. "Evaluating search and matching models using experimental data," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 4(1), pages 1-35, December.
    8. Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce, 2009. "Gift giving and worker productivity: Evidence from a firm-level experiment," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 233-244, September.
    9. MacLeod, W Bentley & Malcomson, James M, 1989. "Implicit Contracts, Incentive Compatibility, and Involuntary Unemployment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 447-480, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stefano DellaVigna & John A. List & Ulrike Malmendier, 2012. "Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(1), pages 1-56.
    2. Stefano DellaVigna & John List & Ulrike Malmendier & Gautam Rao, 2016. "Estimating Social Preferences and Gift Exchange at Work," Natural Field Experiments 00586, The Field Experiments Website.
    3. Englmaier, Florian & Roider, Andreas & Sunde, Uwe, 2014. "The Role of Communication of Performance Schemes: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 507, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    4. Matthias Fahn & Anne Schade & Katharina Schüßler, 2017. "What Drives Reciprocal Behavior? The Optimal Provision of Incentives over the Course of Careers," CESifo Working Paper Series 6635, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Luca Livio, 2018. "Friends or Foes? Optimal Incentives for Reciprocal Agents," Working Papers ECARES 2018-03, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    6. Non, Arjan, 2012. "Gift-exchange, incentives, and heterogeneous workers," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 319-336.
    7. Cardella, Eric & Depew, Briggs, 2016. "Testing for the Ratchet Effect: Evidence from a Real-Effort Work Task," IZA Discussion Papers 9981, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Carpenter, Jeffrey, 2016. "The labor supply of fixed-wage workers: Estimates from a real effort experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 85-95.
    9. repec:eee:gamebe:v:107:y:2018:i:c:p:182-202 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments


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