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The economic psychology of incentives: an international study of top managers


  • Pepper, Alexander
  • Gore, Julie


The world-wide inflation in executive compensation in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of long-term incentives. This article demonstrates how the subjectively perceived value of long-term incentives is affected by risk aversion, uncertainty aversion, and time preferences. Based on a unique empirical study which involved collecting primary data on executive preferences from around the world, and using a theoretical framework which draws on behavioral agency theory, we conclude that, while long-term incentives are perceived by executives to be effective, they are not in fact an efficient form of reward, and that this outcome is not significantly affected by cross-cultural differences. We conjecture that boards of directors, acting on behalf of shareholders, increase the size of long-term incentive awards in order to compensate executives for the perceived loss of value when compared with less risky, more certain and more immediate forms of reward.

Suggested Citation

  • Pepper, Alexander & Gore, Julie, 2014. "The economic psychology of incentives: an international study of top managers," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51655, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:51655

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    18. Pepper, Alexander & Gore, Julie, 2015. "Behavioral agency theory: new foundations for theorizing about executive compensation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 47569, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pepper, Alexander, 2017. "Applying economic psychology to the problem of executive compensation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 79675, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. Julie De Pril & C├ęcile Godfroid, 2017. "How to Reconcile Financial Incentives and Prosocial Motivation of Loan Officers in Microfinance?," Working Papers CEB 17-011, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

    More about this item


    agency theory; behavioral economics; executive compensation; motivation; long-term incentives;

    JEL classification:

    • D0 - Microeconomics - - General
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions

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