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You Don't Always Get What You Pay For: Bonuses, Perceived Income, and Effort

  • Wendelin Schnedler


Consider a principal-agent relationship in which more effort by the agent raises the likelihood of success. This paper provides conditions such that no success bonus induces the agent to exert more effort and the optimal contract is independent of success. Moreover, success bonuses may even reduce effort and thus the probability of success. The reason is that bonuses increase the perceived income of the agent and can hence reduce his willingness to exert effort. This perceived income effect has to be weighed against the incentive effect of the bonus. The trade-off is determined by the marginal effect of effort on the success probability in relation to this probability itself (success hazard-rate of effort). The paper also discusses practical implications of the finding.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK in its series The Centre for Market and Public Organisation with number 09/226.

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Length: 13 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:09/226
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  1. Amin H. Amershi & John S. Hughes, 1989. "Multiple Signals, Statistical Sufficiency, and Pareto Orderings of Best Agency Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 20(1), pages 102-112, Spring.
  2. Schnedler, Wendelin, 2002. "The virtue of being underestimated: a note on discriminatory contracts in hidden information models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 171-178, April.
  3. Friebel, Guido & Schnedler, Wendelin, 2011. "Team governance: Empowerment or hierarchical control," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 78(1-2), pages 1-13, April.
  4. Dirk Sliwka, 2003. "On the Hidden Costs of Incentive Schemes," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse12_2003, University of Bonn, Germany.
  5. Schnedler, Wendelin & Vadovic, Radovan, 2007. "Legitimacy of Control," IZA Discussion Papers 3013, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Armin Falk & Michael Kosfeld, . "The Hidden Costs of Control," IEW - Working Papers 250, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  7. Bengt Holmstrom, 1979. "Moral Hazard and Observability," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 74-91, Spring.
  8. Bruno S. Frey & Reto Jegen, 2000. "Motivation Crowding Theory: A Survey of Empirical Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 245, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. Thiele, Henrik & Wambach, Achim, 1999. "Wealth Effects in the Principal Agent Model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 89(2), pages 247-260, December.
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