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Productivity, Seniority and Wages. New Evidence form Personnel Data

  • Ichino, A.
  • Flabbi, L.

Wages may be observed to increase with seniority because of firm-specific human capital accumulation or because of self-selection of better workers in longer jobs. In both these cases the upward sloping wage profile in cross sectional regressions would reflect higher productivity of more senior workers. If this were true, the observation of an effect of seniority on wages would depend on the presence of controls for individual productivity. In this paper we replicate, using personnel data from a large Italian firm, the results of the pioneering work of Medoff and Abraham (1980 and 1981) in which supervisors' evaluations were used as productivity indicators. Since the validity of supervisors' evaluations as measures of productivity has been widely criticised, we extend the work of Medoff and Abraham using different direct measures of productivity based on recorded absenteeism and misconduct episodes. Both these indicators and supervisors' evaluation suggest that the observed effect of seniority on wages does not reflect a higher productivity of more senior workers. Theories in which wages are deferred for incentive or insurance reasons are therefore more likely to explain the observed upward sloping profile.

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Paper provided by European University Institute in its series Economics Working Papers with number eco98/11.

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Length: 22 pages
Date of creation: 1998
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:eui:euiwps:eco98/11
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  1. Medoff, James L & Abraham, Katharine G, 1980. "Experience, Performance, and Earnings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 95(4), pages 703-36, December.
  2. Abraham, Katharine G & Farber, Henry S, 1987. "Job Duration, Seniority, and Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 278-97, June.
  3. Mincer, Jacob, 1997. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings: Variations on a Theme," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages S26-47, January.
  4. Joseph G. Altonji & Nicolas Williams, 2005. "Do wages rise with job seniority? A reassessment," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 58(3), pages 370-397, April.
  5. Andrea Ichino & Michele Polo & Enrico Rettore, . "Are Judges Biased by Labor Market Conditions?," Working Papers 192, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  6. Joseph Altonji & R. Shakotko, 1985. "Do Wages Rise with Job Seniority?," Working Papers 567, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  7. Hutchens, Robert M, 1989. "Seniority, Wages and Productivity: A Turbulent Decade," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 49-64, Fall.
  8. James L. Medoff & Katharine G. Abraham, 1981. "Are Those Paid More Really More Productive? The Case of Experience," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 16(2), pages 186-216.
  9. Christopher L. Erikson & Andrea Ichino, 1994. "Wage Differentials in Italy: Market Forces, Institutions, and Inflation," NBER Working Papers 4922, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Dale T. Mortensen, 1978. "Specific Capital, Bargaining, and Labor Turnover," Discussion Papers 320, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  11. Harris, Milton & Holstrom, Bengt, 1982. "A Theory of Wage Dynamics," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(3), pages 315-33, July.
  12. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-84, December.
  13. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-20, September.
  14. Booth, Alison L & Frank, Jeff, 1994. "Seniority, Earnings and Unions," CEPR Discussion Papers 1007, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  15. Jovanovic, Boyan, 1979. "Job Matching and the Theory of Turnover," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 972-90, October.
  16. Bishop, John, 1987. "The Recognition and Reward of Employee Performance," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(4), pages S36-56, October.
  17. Robert Gibbons, 1996. "Incentives and Careers in Organizations," NBER Working Papers 5705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Robert H. Topel, 1990. "Specific Capital, Mobility, and Wages: Wages Rise with Job Seniority," NBER Working Papers 3294, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Jacob Mincer & Boyan Jovanovic, 1981. "Labor Mobility and Wages," NBER Chapters, in: Studies in Labor Markets, pages 21-64 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Felli, Leonardo & Harris, Christopher, 1996. "Learning, Wage Dynamics, and Firm-Specific Human Capital," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 838-68, August.
  21. Baker, George & Gibbs, Michael & Holmstrom, Bengt, 1994. "The Internal Economics of the Firm: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(4), pages 881-919, November.
  22. Carmichael, H Lorne, 1989. "Self-Enforcing Contracts, Shirking, and Life Cycle Incentives," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 65-83, Fall.
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