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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Wendelin Schnedler, 2009. "You Don't Always Get What You Pay For: Bonuses, Perceived Income, and Effort," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 09/226, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:09/226

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Wendelin Schnedler & Radovan Vadovic, 2011. "Legitimacy of Control," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 20(4), pages 985-1009, December.
    3. Bruno S. Frey & Reto Jegen, 2000. "Motivation Crowding Theory: A Survey of Empirical Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 245, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Thiele, Henrik & Wambach, Achim, 1999. "Wealth Effects in the Principal Agent Model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 89(2), pages 247-260, December.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Sliwka, Dirk, 2003. "On the Hidden Costs of Incentive Schemes," IZA Discussion Papers 844, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Michael Kosfeld & Armin Falk, 2006. "The Hidden Costs of Control," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1611-1630, December.
    9. Bengt Holmstrom, 1979. "Moral Hazard and Observability," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 74-91, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Goytom Abraha Kahsay & Laura Mørch Andersen & Lars Gårn Hansen, 2014. "Price reactions when consumers are concerned about pro-social reputation," IFRO Working Paper 2014/09, University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics.

    More about this item


    bonus; premium; incentives; income effect; moral hazard;

    JEL classification:

    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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