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Learning from the Past: Trends in Executive Compensation over the Twentieth Century


  • Carola Frydman


In recent years, a large academic debate has tried to explain the rapid rise in CEO pay experienced over the past three decades. In this article, I review the main proposed theories, which span views of compensation as the result of a competitive labor market for executives to theories based on excess of managerial power. Some of these hypotheses have found support in cross-sectional evidence, but it has proven more difficult to determine which factors have caused the observed changes in pay over time. An alternative strategy is to evaluate the fit of plausible explanations out of sample by contrasting them with the evolution in executive pay and the market for managers during earlier time periods. A case study of General Electric suggests that evidence for earlier decades can speak to the recent trends and reveals the limitations of current explanations to address the long-run data.

Suggested Citation

  • Carola Frydman, 2008. "Learning from the Past: Trends in Executive Compensation over the Twentieth Century," CESifo Working Paper Series 2460, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2460

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fabienne Llense, 2010. "French CEOs' Compensations: What is the Cost of a Mandatory Upper Limit?," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 56(2), pages 165-191, June.
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    3. Cuñat, Vicente & Guadalupe, Maria, 2009. "Executive compensation and competition in the banking and financial sectors," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 495-504, March.
    4. Carola Frydman & Raven E. Saks, 2010. "Executive Compensation: A New View from a Long-Term Perspective, 1936--2005," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(5), pages 2099-2138.
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    6. Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1998. "Are CEOs Really Paid Like Bureaucrats?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 653-691.
    7. Vicente Cuñat & Maria Guadalupe, 2009. "Globalization and the Provision of Incentives inside the Firm: The Effect of Foreign Competition," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 179-212, April.
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    13. Murphy, Kevin J., 1999. "Executive compensation," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 38, pages 2485-2563 Elsevier.
    14. Benjamin E. Hermalin, 2005. "Trends in Corporate Governance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(5), pages 2351-2384, October.
    15. Fama, Eugene F, 1980. "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(2), pages 288-307, April.
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    More about this item


    executive compensation; managerial incentives; corporate governance; market for managers;

    JEL classification:

    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-


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