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Does Pay Inequality Affect Worker Effort? Experimental Evidence

Listed author(s):
  • Gary Charness
  • Peter Kuhn

We study worker behavior in an efficiency-wage environment in which coworkers’ wages can influence a worker’s effort. Theoretically, we show that an increase in workers’ responsiveness to coworkers’ wages should lead profit-maximizing firms to compress wages. Our laboratory experiments, by contrast, show that while workers’ effort choices are highly sensitive to their own wages, effort is not affected by coworkers’ wages. This casts doubt on the notion that workers’ concerns with equity might explain pay policies such as wage compression or wage secrecy.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/519540
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Labor Economics.

Volume (Year): 25 (2007)
Issue (Month): ()
Pages: 693-723

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlabec:v:25:y:2007:p:693-723
DOI: 10.1086/519540
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JOLE/

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  1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
  2. Gary Charness, 2004. "Attribution and Reciprocity in an Experimental Labor Market," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(3), pages 665-688, July.
  3. George A. Akerlof & Janet L. Yellen, 1990. "The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(2), pages 255-283.
  4. 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.
  5. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2005. "Social Preferences and the Response to Incentives: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 917-962.
  6. Ernst Fehr & Armin Falk, 1999. "Wage Rigidity in a Competitive Incomplete Contract Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(1), pages 106-134, February.
  7. Guillaume Fréchette & John H. Kagel & Massimo Morelli, 2005. "Behavioral Identification in Coalitional Bargaining: An Experimental Analysis of Demand Bargaining and Alternating Offers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(6), pages 1893-1937, November.
  8. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2003. "Enjoying the Quiet Life? Corporate Governance and Managerial Preferences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(5), pages 1043-1075, October.
  9. Frank, Robert H, 1984. "Are Workers Paid Their Marginal Products?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 549-571, September.
  10. Lazear, Edward P, 1989. "Pay Equality and Industrial Politics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(3), pages 561-580, June.
  11. Antonio Cabrales & Gary Charness, 2000. "Optimal contracts, adverse selection and social preferences: An experiment," Economics Working Papers 478, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  12. Alexandre Mas, 2006. "Pay, Reference Points, and Police Performance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(3), pages 783-821.
  13. Linda Babcock & Xianghong Wang & George Loewenstein, 1996. "Choosing the Wrong Pond: Social Comparisons in Negotiations That Reflect a Self-Serving Bias," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(1), pages 1-19.
  14. Danziger, Leif & Katz, Eliakim, 1997. "Wage Secrecy as a Social Convention," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 35(1), pages 59-69, January.
  15. Guillaume R. Frechette & John H. Kagel & Steven Lehrer, 2000. "Bargaining in Legislatures: An Experimental Investigation of Open versus Closed Amendment Rules," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1515, Econometric Society.
  16. Werner Güth & Manfred Königstein & Judit Kovács & Enikõ Zala-Mezõ, 2001. "Fairness Within Firms: The Case Of One Principal And Multiple Agents," Schmalenbach Business Review (sbr), LMU Munich School of Management, vol. 53(2), pages 82-101, April.
  17. Fehr, Ernst, et al, 1998. "When Social Norms Overpower Competition: Gift Exchange in Experimental Labor Markets," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(2), pages 324-351, April.
  18. repec:cup:apsrev:v:97:y:2003:i:02:p:221-232_00 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Gary Charness & David I. Levine, 2007. "Intention and Stochastic Outcomes: An Experimental study," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(522), pages 1051-1072, 07.
  20. Sandra Maximiano & Randolph Sloof & Joep Sonnemans, 2007. "Gift Exchange in a Multi-Worker Firm," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(522), pages 1025-1050, 07.
  21. Milton Harris & Bengt Holmstrom, 1982. "A Theory of Wage Dynamics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 49(3), pages 315-333.
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