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An Experimental Comparison of the Fairness Models by Bolton and Ockenfels and by Fehr and Schmidt


  • Dirk Engelmann

    (Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin)

  • Martin Strobel

    (Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin)


We present an experiment to compare the two fairness theories by Bolton and Ockenfels [ERC] and by Fehr and Schmidt [F&S]. If one wants to compare their predictive power, most of the experiments that are interpreted retrospectively are not helpful, since both theories make equal or very similar predictions. Both models rely on inequality aversion. The fundamental difference between them is that ERC assumes that subjects like the average payoff to be as close as possible to their own payoff while F&S assumes that subjects dislike a payoff difference to any other individual. To obtain explicitly opposite predictions by the two theories we chose a game that focuses on their fundamental difference. A person received a fixed payoff and chose between three different allocations of money between a person who received in all allocations more than her and a person who always received less. The allocations with an average payoff for the other two persons closer to her's, had both individual payoffs more distant from her's. ERC predicts that she chooses the allocation that is most unequal between the other two persons. The choice of the opposite allocation is predicted by F&S. Subjects knew that their decision could never influence their own payoff. To prevent interference of preferences for efficiency with our objective, we designed two treatments, one where following the ERC prediction leads to a maximization of total payoff, one where maximization of total payoff is in line with the F&S prediction. In the second treatment the results clearly confirm the F&S prediction. In the first treatment subjects chose in about equal proportions the two extreme allocations. Hence the performance of F&S is much better than that of ERC, although both theories ignore the importance that subjects assign to efficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • Dirk Engelmann & Martin Strobel, 2000. "An Experimental Comparison of the Fairness Models by Bolton and Ockenfels and by Fehr and Schmidt," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1229, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:1229

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    2. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chu, Ke-young, 2004. "Group-Oriented Values, Rules and Cooperation," WIDER Working Paper Series 066, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    2. Gary Bolton & Axel Ockenfels, 2005. "A stress test of fairness measures in models of social utility," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 25(4), pages 957-982, June.
    3. Attila Gulyás, 2010. "- Friends?... Fair enough," Proceedings of FIKUSZ '10,in: László Áron Kóczy (ed.), Proceedings of FIKUSZ 2010, pages 72-92 Óbuda University, Keleti Faculty of Business and Management.
    4. David Masclet, 2002. "Peer Pressure in Work Teams : The effects of Inequity Aversion," Post-Print halshs-00178476, HAL.

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