IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records


  • Harry J. Paarsch
  • Bruce Shearer


We estimate the gain in productivity that is realized by paying workers piece rates rather than fixed wages; i.e., theincentive effect. Our data come from the payroll records of a British Columbia tree-planting firm that paid its workers both piece rates and fixed wages. These data contain information on the daily productivity of workers over a period of nearly six months. Furthermore, we observe the same workers under both piece rates and fixed wages, allowing us to control for individual-specific effects in the data. We develop and estimate an agency model or worker behaviour under piece rates and fixed wages. The model implies optimal decision rules for the firm's choice of a compensation system as a function of planting conditions. We use the model to derive statistical implications for the incentive effect. We demonstrate that while simple regression methods cannot identify the incentive effect (due to the endogeneity of the payment system), they can provide upper and lower bounds to this effect. We estimate those bounds to be 5% and 32% of observed productivity on piece rate contracts. We also demonstrate that the model cand be estimated structurally, wherein the firm's optimal choice of a compensation system is built directly into the estimation procedure. Structural results suggest that incentives accounted for 9.1% of observed productivity. Nous mesurons le gain de productivité réalisé quand les travailleurs sont payés à la pièce plutôt qu'à taux fixe, i.e. l'effet incitatif. Nos données proviennent des archives d'une compagnie qui s'occupe de la plantation d'arbres en Colombie-Britannique. Cette compagnie a payé ses travailleurs à la pièce et à taux fixe. Nos données contiennent des informations sur la productivité et sur les salaires quotidiens des travailleurs sur une période de presque six mois. De plus, nous observons les mêmes travailleurs sous les deux systèmes de paye, ce qui nous permet de contrôler les effets spécifiques aux individus dans les données. Nous développons et estimons un modèle simple du genre principal-agent pour analyser le comportement des travailleurs sous les deux systèmes de paye. Le modèle implique un choix optimal de la part de la firme du système de paye en fonction des conditions de plantation. Nous utilisons le modèle pour déterminer les implications statistiques de la mesure de l'effet incitatif. Nous montrons, que bien que les méthodes de régression simple ne sont pas capables d'identifier l'effet incitatif (à cause de l'endogénéité du système de paye), elles peuvent être utilisées pour calculer les bornes inférieures et supérieures de l'effet incitatif. Nous évaluons ces bornes à 5% et 32% de la productivité observée quand les travailleurs sont payés à la pièce. De plus, nous montrons que le modèle peut être estimé de façon structurelle en incluant directement dans l'estimation la décision optimale de la part de la firme au niveau de son choix du système de paye. Nos résultats structurels suggèrent que l'effet incitatif compte pour 9,1% de la productivité observée quand les travailleurs sont payés à la pièce.

Suggested Citation

  • Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce Shearer, 1996. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records," CIRANO Working Papers 96s-31, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:96s-31

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jones, Derek C & Kato, Takao, 1995. "The Productivity Effects of Employee Stock-Ownership Plans and Bonuses: Evidence from Japanese Panel Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 391-414, June.
    2. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver D, 1983. "An Analysis of the Principal-Agent Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(1), pages 7-45, January.
    3. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1987. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(2), pages 303-328, March.
    4. Christopher Ferrall & Bruce Shearer, 1994. "Incentives, Team Production, Transaction Costs, And The Optimal Contract: Estimates Of An Agency Model Using Payroll Records," Working Paper 908, Economics Department, Queen's University.
    5. Oliver Hart & Bengt Holmstrom, 1986. "The Theory of Contracts," Working papers 418, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    6. Lazear, Edward P, 1986. "Salaries and Piece Rates," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 405-431, July.
    7. Edward P. Lazear, 2000. "Performance Pay and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1346-1361, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Bloom, Nicholas & Van Reenen, John, 2011. "Human Resource Management and Productivity," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 19, pages 1697-1767, Elsevier.
    2. Pupato, Germán, 2017. "Performance pay, trade and inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 478-504.
    3. Dalton, P.S. & Gonzalez Jimenez, V.H. & Noussair, C.N., 2015. "Paying with Self-Chosen Goals : Incentives and Gender Differences," Discussion Paper 2015-021, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    4. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pb:p:2373-2437 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Adam Copeland & Cyril Monnet, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Incentive Schemes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 93-113.
    6. Alberto Bayo-Moriones & Jose E. Galdon-Sanchez & Sara Martinez-de-Morentin, 2017. "Performance Measurement and Incentive Intensity," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 38(4), pages 496-546, December.
    7. Felipe Balmaceda, 2004. "Uncertainty, Pay for Performance and Adverse Selection in a Competitive Labor Market," Documentos de Trabajo 196, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
    8. Palomino, Frederic & Prat, Andrea, 2003. "Risk Taking and Optimal Contracts for Money Managers," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 34(1), pages 113-137, Spring.
    9. Philip H. Dybvig & Heber K. Farnsworth & Jennifer N. Carpenter, 2010. "Portfolio Performance and Agency," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(1), pages 1-23, January.
    10. Bruce Shearer, 1994. "Piece-Rates, Principal-Agent, and Productivity Profiles: Parametric and Semi-Parametric Evidence," CIRANO Working Papers 94s-16, CIRANO.
    11. Eduard Marinov, 2016. "The 2016 Nobel Prize in Economics," Economic Thought journal, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences - Economic Research Institute, issue 6, pages 97-149.
    12. Dalton, P.S. & Gonzalez Jimenez, V.H. & Noussair, Charles, 2016. "Self-Chosen Goals : Incentives and Gender Differences (revision of 2015-021)," Other publications TiSEM 17c07360-8b49-4f45-a776-8, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    13. Cornelissen, Thomas & Heywood, John S. & Jirjahn, Uwe, 2011. "Performance pay, risk attitudes and job satisfaction," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 229-239, April.
    14. Chi, Wei & Liu, Tracy Xiao & Qian, Xiaoye & Ye, Qing, 2019. "An experimental study of incentive contracts for short- and long-term employees," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 366-383.
    15. Keith Bender & Colin Green & John Heywood, 2012. "Piece rates and workplace injury: Does survey evidence support Adam Smith?," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 25(2), pages 569-590, January.
    16. Suraj Prasad, 2009. "Task assignments and incentives: generalists versus specialists," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 40(2), pages 380-403, June.
    17. Bannier, Christina E. & Feess, Eberhard, 2010. "When high-powered incentive contracts reduce performance: choking under pressure as a screening device," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 135, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    18. Greg Hallman & Jay C. Hartzell, 1999. "Optimal Compensation Contracts with Pay-For-Performance and Termination Incentives," New York University, Leonard N. Stern School Finance Department Working Paper Seires 99-053, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business-.
    19. Kato, Takao & Kauhanen, Antti & Kujansuu, Essi, 2013. "The Performance Effects of Individual and Group Incentives: A Case Study," ETLA Working Papers 19, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.
    20. Macera, Rosario, 2018. "Present or future incentives? On the optimality of fixed wages with moral hazard," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 129-144.
    21. Georgiadis, George & Szentes, Balázs, 2020. "Optimal monitoring design," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 104062, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

    More about this item


    Compensation Systems; Incentive Effect; Principal-Agent Models; Systèmes de compensation; effet incitatif; modèles principal-agent;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D2 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • L2 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:96s-31. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Webmaster). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.