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Toward an Understanding of Reference-Dependent Labor Supply: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment

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Listed:
  • Steffen Andersen
  • Alec Brandon
  • Uri Gneezy
  • John List

Abstract

Perhaps the most powerful form of framing arises through reference dependence, wherein choices are made recognizing the starting point or a goal. In labor economics, for example, a form of reference dependence, income targeting, has been argued to represent a serious challenge to traditional economic models. We design a field experiment linked tightly to three popular economic models of labor supply-two behavioral variants and one simple neoclassical model--to deepen our understanding of the positive implications of our major theories. Consistent with neoclassical theory and reference--dependent preferences with endogenous reference points, workers (vendors in open air markets) supply more hours when presented with an expected transitory increase in hourly wages. In contrast with the prediction of behavioral models, however, when vendors earn an unexpected windfall early in the day, their labor supply does not respond. A key feature of our market in terms of parsing the theories is that vendors do not post prices rather they haggle with customers. In this way, our data also speak to the possibility of reference-dependent preferences over other dimensions. Our investigation again yields results that are in line with neoclassical theory, as bargaining patterns are unaffected by the unexpected windfall.

Suggested Citation

  • Steffen Andersen & Alec Brandon & Uri Gneezy & John List, 2014. "Toward an Understanding of Reference-Dependent Labor Supply: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00392, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:framed:00392
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    Cited by:

    1. Omar Al-Ubaydli & John A. List, 2016. "Field Experiments in Markets," NBER Working Papers 22113, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Hiromasa Takahashi & Junyi Shen & Kazuhito Ogawa, 2020. "Gender-specific reference-dependent preferences in the experimental trust game," Evolutionary and Institutional Economics Review, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 25-38, January.
    3. Gibson, John & Norton, Douglas A. & White, Robert A., 2019. "The backward hustle: An experimental investigation of tax code notches and labor supply," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 432-445.
    4. Joshua D. Angrist & Sydnee Caldwell & Jonathan V. Hall, 2017. "Uber vs. Taxi: A Driver’s Eye View," NBER Working Papers 23891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Achyuta Adhvaryu & Teresa Molina & Anant Nyshadham, 2019. "Expectations, Wage Hikes, and Worker Voice: Evidence from a Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 25866, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Xiqian Cai & jie Gong & Yi Lu & Songfa Zhong, 2018. "Recover Overnight? Work Interruption and Worker Productivity," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 64(8), pages 3489-3500, August.
    7. Dutcher, E. Glenn & Balafoutas, Loukas & Lindner, Florian & Ryvkin, Dmitry & Sutter, Matthias, 2015. "Strive to be first or avoid being last: An experiment on relative performance incentives," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 39-56.
    8. Joshua D. Angrist & Sydnee Caldwell & Jonathan V. Hall, 2021. "Uber versus Taxi: A Driver's Eye View," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 272-308, July.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles

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