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Are Those Paid More Really More Productive? The Case of Experience


  • James L. Medoff
  • Katharine G. Abraham


This study uses computerized personnel microdata on the white male managerial and professional employees at a major U.S. corporation to address the following question: Can the additional earnings which are associated with more labor market experience at a point in time really be explained by higher productivity at the same point in time? Our answer to this question, based on both cross-sectional and longitudinal information, is that performance plays a substantially smaller role in explaining cross-sectional experience-earnings differentials and earnings growth than is claimed by those who have adopted the human capital explanation of the experience-earnings profile. This response depends critically on our assumption that the performance ratings which supervisors give to their white male managerial and professional subordinates adequately reflect the subordinates' relative productivity in the year of assessment; we present a great deal of evidence which strongly supports this assumption.

Suggested Citation

  • James L. Medoff & Katharine G. Abraham, 1981. "Are Those Paid More Really More Productive? The Case of Experience," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 16(2), pages 186-216.
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:jhriss:v:16:y:1981:i:2:p:186-216

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ben-Porath, Yoram, 1973. "Labor-Force Participation Rates and the Supply of Labor," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 697-704, May-June.
    2. Richard B. Freeman & James L. Medoff, 1982. "The Youth Labor Market Problem in the United States: An Overview," NBER Chapters,in: The Youth Labor Market Problem: Its Nature, Causes, and Consequences, pages 35-74 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Arthur M. Okun, 1973. "Upward Mobility in a High-Pressure Economy," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 4(1), pages 207-262.
    4. Kim B. Clark & Lawrence H. Summers, 1982. "Labour Force Participation: Timing and Persistence," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 49(5), pages 825-844.
    5. George L. Perry, 1977. "Potential Output and Productivity," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 8(1), pages 11-60.
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