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Do Co-Workers’ Wages Matter? Theory and Evidence on Wage Secrecy, Wage Compression and Effort

Author

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  • Charness, Gary

    () (University of California, Santa Barbara)

  • Kuhn, Peter J.

    () (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Abstract

We study worker and firm behavior in an environment where worker effort could depend on co-workers’ wages. Theoretically, we show that an increase in workers’ ‘concerns’ with coworkers’ wages should lead profit-maximizing firms to compress wages under quite general conditions. However, firms should be harmed by such concerns, and such concerns can justify paying equal wages to workers of unequal productivity only when those concerns are asymmetric (in the sense that only underpayment matters). Our laboratory experiments indicate that workers’ effort choices are highly sensitive to their own wages, but largely unresponsive to co-workers’ wages. Despite this, in apparent anticipation of a negative worker reaction, firms in our experiment were more likely to compress wages when wages became public information. Profits were not significantly reduced by a requirement to make wages public. Overall, our results seem to weaken the case that either wage secrecy or wage compression is a profit-maximizing policy in practice.

Suggested Citation

  • Charness, Gary & Kuhn, Peter J., 2004. "Do Co-Workers’ Wages Matter? Theory and Evidence on Wage Secrecy, Wage Compression and Effort," IZA Discussion Papers 1417, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp1417
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
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    13. John Kagel & Katherine Wolfe, 2001. "Tests of Fairness Models Based on Equity Considerations in a Three-Person Ultimatum Game," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 4(3), pages 203-219, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andrew E. Clark & David Masclet & Marie Claire Villeval, 2010. "Effort and Comparison Income: Experimental and Survey Evidence," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 63(3), pages 407-426, April.
    2. Heike Hennig-Schmidt & Bettina Rockenbach & Abdolkarim Sadrieh, 2010. "In Search Of Workers' Real Effort Reciprocity-A Field and a Laboratory Experiment," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(4), pages 817-837, June.
    3. Wu, Steven & Roe, Brian & Sporleder, Thomas, 2006. "Mixed Tournaments, Common Shocks, and Disincentives: An Experimental Study," MPRA Paper 21, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Andrew E. Clark & David Masclet & Marie Claire Villeval, 2006. "Effort, revenu et rang. Une étude expérimentale," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 57(3), pages 635-643.
    5. Sandra Maximiano & Randolph Sloof & Joep Sonnemans, 2007. "Gift Exchange in a Multi-Worker Firm," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(522), pages 1025-1050, July.
    6. Cardoso, Ana Rute, 2005. "Big Fish in Small Pond or Small Fish in Big Pond? An Analysis of Job Mobility," IZA Discussion Papers 1900, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Teck-Hua Ho & Xuanming Su, 2009. "Peer-Induced Fairness in Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 2022-2049, December.
    8. Andrew E. Clark & David Masclet & Marie Claire Villeval, 2006. "Effort and comparison income: Survey and experimental evidence," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590552, HAL.
    9. Maximiano, Sandra & Sloof, Randolph & Sonnemans, Joep, 2013. "Gift exchange and the separation of ownership and control," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 41-60.
    10. Dorothea Alewell & Andreas Nicklisch, 2006. "Wage Differentials, Fairness, and Social Comparison: An experimental study of the Co-Employment of Permanent and Temporary Agency Workers†," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2006_8, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    jealousy; social preferences; effort; experiments; wage compression; wage secrecy;

    JEL classification:

    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • M12 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Personnel Management; Executives; Executive Compensation
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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