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Seniority-based layoffs as an incentive device


  • Joseph A. Ritter
  • Lowell J. Taylor


This paper provides a simple economic rationale for two elements that often appear - implicitly or explicitly - in firms' personnel policies. When firms reduce their labor input they often (i) lay off a few individuals rather than adjust work hours, and (ii) make retention decisions on the basis of seniority. We show that in a stochastic environment, a seniority-based layoff policy can have the effect of making the job valuable to a worker over most of her career. This provides work-life incentives using a mechanism similar to Lazear's well known model of upward-sloping wage profiles. Firms reduce their workforce by adjusting employment rather than work hours because layoffs are an integral part the incentive scheme.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph A. Ritter & Lowell J. Taylor, 1998. "Seniority-based layoffs as an incentive device," Working Papers 1998-006, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:1998-006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Haltiwanger, John, 1984. "The Distinguishing Characteristics of Temporary and Permanent Layoffs," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(4), pages 523-538, October.
    2. George A. Akerlof & Hajime Miyazaki, 1980. "The Implicit Contract Theory of Unemployment meets the Wage Bill Argument," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 47(2), pages 321-338.
    3. Edward P. Lazear & Paul Oyer, 2012. "Personnel Economics," Introductory Chapters,in: Robert Gibbons & John Roberts (ed.), The Handbook of Organizational Economics Princeton University Press.
    4. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-620, September.
    5. Idson, Todd L & Valletta, Robert G, 1996. "Seniority, Sectoral Decline, and Employee Retention: An Analysis of Layoff Unemployment Spells," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(4), pages 654-676, October.
    6. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-1284, December.
    7. George A. Akerlof & Lawrence F. Katz, 1989. "Workers' Trust Funds and the Logic of Wage Profiles," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(3), pages 525-536.
    8. Edward P. Lazear, 1995. "Personnel Economics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262121883, July.
    9. John C. Ham, 1986. "Testing whether Unemployment Represents Intertemporal Labour Supply Behaviour," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 53(4), pages 559-578.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joseph A. Ritter & Lowell J. Taylor, 1998. "Valuable jobs and uncertainty," Working Papers 1997-005, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

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