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Sorting, Incentives and Risk Preferences: Evidence from a Field Experiment


  • Bellemare, Charles

    () (Université Laval)

  • Shearer, Bruce S.

    () (Université Laval)


The, often observed, positive correlation between incentive intensity and risk has been explained in two ways: the presence of transaction costs as determinants of contracts and the sorting of risk-tolerant individuals into firms using high-intensity incentive contracts. The empirical importance of sorting is perhaps best evaluated by directly measuring the risk tolerance of workers who have selected into incentive contracts under risky environments. We use experiments, conducted within a real firm, to measure the risk preferences of a sample of workers who are paid incentive contracts and face substantial daily income risk. Our experimental results indicate the presence of sorting; Workers in our sample are risk-tolerant. Moreover, their level of tolerance is considerably higher than levels observed for samples of individuals representing broader populations. Interestingly, the high level of risk tolerance suggests that both sorting and transaction costs are important determinants of contract choices when workers have heterogeneous preferences.

Suggested Citation

  • Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce S., 2006. "Sorting, Incentives and Risk Preferences: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2227, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2227

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daniel A. Ackerberg & Maristella Botticini, 2002. "Endogenous Matching and the Empirical Determinants of Contract Form," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(3), pages 564-591, June.
    2. Canice Prendergast, 2000. "What Trade-Off of Risk and Incentives?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 421-425, May.
    3. Armin Falk & Andrea Ichino, 2006. "Clean Evidence on Peer Effects," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(1), pages 39-58, January.
    4. Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce, 2009. "Gift giving and worker productivity: Evidence from a firm-level experiment," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 233-244, September.
    5. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
    6. Bonin, Holger & Dohmen, Thomas & Falk, Armin & Huffman, David & Sunde, Uwe, 2007. "Cross-sectional earnings risk and occupational sorting: The role of risk attitudes," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(6), pages 926-937, December.
    7. Gourieroux, Christian & Monfort, Alain & Trognon, Alain, 1984. "Pseudo Maximum Likelihood Methods: Theory," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 681-700, May.
    8. Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce S. Shearer, 1999. "The Response of Worker Effort to Piece Rates: Evidence from the British Columbia Tree-Planting Industry," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(4), pages 643-667.
    9. Bruce Shearer, 2004. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages and Incentives: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(2), pages 513-534.
    10. Chetan Dave & Catherine Eckel & Cathleen Johnson & Christian Rojas, 2010. "Eliciting risk preferences: When is simple better?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 41(3), pages 219-243, December.
    11. Allen, Douglas & Lueck, Dean, 1992. "Contract Choice in Modern Agriculture: Cash Rent versus Cropshare," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(2), pages 397-426, October.
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    risk aversion; sorting; incentive contracts; field experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments

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