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Promotion, Turnover, and Discretionary Human Capital Acquisition


  • Scoones, David
  • Bernhardt, Dan


This article explores human capital acquisition decisions when job placement helps determine competition for a worker. With asymmetric information, workers may invest in firm-specific capital without long-term contracts. Specific investment increases promotion chances (and hence wage competition), shifting competition back to a time when firms are symmetrically uninformed. If general human capital is the efficient (output-maximizing) investment, then an equivalent firm-specific investment maximizes expected career wages. This is a general result for sellers in second-price auctions: sellers (of labor) invest to maximize the expected second-highest bidder valuation (wage), not the winner's expected valuation. Copyright 1998 by University of Chicago Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Scoones, David & Bernhardt, Dan, 1998. "Promotion, Turnover, and Discretionary Human Capital Acquisition," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 122-141, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlabec:v:16:y:1998:i:1:p:122-41

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dan Bernhardt, 1995. "Strategic Promotion and Compensation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 62(2), pages 315-339.
    2. Gary S. Becker, 1962. "Investment in Human Capital: A Theoretical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 1-9.
    3. Levine, David I, 1993. "Worth Waiting For? Delayed Compensation, Training, and Turnover in the United States and Japan," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(4), pages 724-752, October.
    4. Bernhardt, Dan & Timmis, Gerald C, 1990. "Multiperiod Wage Contracts and Productivity Profiles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(4), pages 529-563, October.
    5. Paul Milgrom & Sharon Oster, 1987. "Job Discrimination, Market Forces, and the Invisibility Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 102(3), pages 453-476.
    6. Michael Waldman, 1984. "Job Assignments, Signalling, and Efficiency," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(2), pages 255-267, Summer.
    7. Brown, James N, 1989. "Why Do Wages Increase with Tenure? On-the-Job Training and Life-Cycle Wage Growth Observed within Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 971-991, December.
    8. Barth, Erling, 1997. "Firm-Specific Seniority and Wages," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(3), pages 495-506, July.
    9. Scoones, David, 2000. "Matching and competition for human capital," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 135-152, March.
    10. Robert H. Topel & Michael P. Ward, 1992. "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(2), pages 439-479.
    11. Chun Chang & Wang, Yijiang, 1995. "A framework for understanding differences in labor turnover and human capital investment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 91-105, September.
    12. Canice Prendergast, 1993. "The Role of Promotion in Inducing Specific Human Capital Acquisition," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(2), pages 523-534.
    13. Topel, Robert H, 1991. "Specific Capital, Mobility, and Wages: Wages Rise with Job Seniority," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(1), pages 145-176, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Corinne Langinier & Stephanie Lluis, 2015. "Departure and Promotion of U.S. Patent Examiners: Do Patent Characteristics Matter?," Working Papers 1506, University of Waterloo, Department of Economics, revised Dec 2015.
    2. Dan Bernhardt & Steeve Mongrain, 2010. "The Layoff Rat Race," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 112(1), pages 185-210, March.
    3. Dato, Simon & Grunewald, Andreas & Kräkel, Matthias & Müller, Daniel, 2016. "Asymmetric employer information, promotions, and the wage policy of firms," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 273-300.
    4. Oyer, Paul & Schaefer, Scott, 2011. "Personnel Economics: Hiring and Incentives," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
    5. Ferreira, Priscila, 2009. "The determinants of promotions and firm separations," ISER Working Paper Series 2009-11, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    6. Yijiang Wang, "undated". "Demand, Supply and Coordination: An Integrated Theory of the Division of Labor," Working Papers 0405, Human Resources and Labor Studies, University of Minnesota (Twin Cities Campus).
    7. Bas Klaauw & António Dias da Silva, 2011. "Wage dynamics and promotions inside and between firms," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(4), pages 1513-1548, October.
    8. Frazer, Garth, 2006. "Learning the master's trade: Apprenticeship and human capital in Ghana," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 259-298, December.
    9. Joshua C. Pinkston, 2009. "A Model of Asymmetric Employer Learning with Testable Implications," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 367-394.
    10. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pb:p:2373-2437 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Cassidy, Hugh & DeVaro, Jed & Kauhanen, Antti, 2016. "Promotion signaling, gender, and turnover: New theory and evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 126(PA), pages 140-166.
    12. Prasad, Suraj & Tran, Hien, 2013. "Work practices, incentives for skills, and training," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 66-76.

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