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Cooperation, Competition, and Risk Attitudes: An Intergenerational Field and Laboratory Experiment


  • Charness, Gary

    () (University of California, Santa Barbara)

  • Villeval, Marie Claire

    () (CNRS, GATE)


The population of most developed societies is ‘graying’. As life expectancy increases and the large baby-boom generation approaches retirement age, this has critical consequences for maintaining a high standard of living and the sustainability of pension systems. In the light of these labor-force and social concerns, we consider experimentally the comparative behavior of juniors (under 30) and seniors (over 50) in both experiments conducted onsite with the employees of two large firms and in a conventional laboratory environment with students and retirees. Our results are compelling. First, seniors are not more risk-averse, as opposed to the conventional stereotype. Second, both juniors and seniors react to the competitiveness of the environment and there is no significant difference in performance in the real-effort task across the generations when they are competing. Third, seniors are typically more cooperative than juniors in a team-production game. Cooperation is highest in groups in which there is a mix of juniors and seniors, suggesting that there are indeed benefits in maintaining a work force with diversity in age. Overall, the implication is that it is beneficial to define additional short-term incentives near the end of the workers’ career to motivate and to retain older workers. A secondary, but important, issue is the external validity of conventional laboratory experiments. In general we do not find strong differences in behavior between workers and non-workers, indicating that laboratory experiments may not be such a bad approximation for the field environment.

Suggested Citation

  • Charness, Gary & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2007. "Cooperation, Competition, and Risk Attitudes: An Intergenerational Field and Laboratory Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2574, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2574

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    Cited by:

    1. Lisa Anderson & Beth Freeborn & Jason Hulbert, 2012. "Risk Aversion and Tacit Collusion in a Bertrand Duopoly Experiment," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 40(1), pages 37-50, February.
    2. Ochsen, Carsten, 2015. "The Ins and Outs of German Unemployment," Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 113223, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    3. Uschi Backes-Gellner & Stephan Veen, 2008. "The Impact of Workforce Age Heterogeneity on Company Productivity," Working Papers 0078, University of Zurich, Institute for Strategy and Business Economics (ISU), revised Sep 2009.
    4. Sproten, Alec N. & Schwieren, Christiane, 2012. "Age differences in the reaction to incentives – do older people avoid competition?," Working Papers 0522, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    5. Lucy F. Ackert & Ann B. Gillette & Jorge Martinez-Vazquez & Mark Rider, 2009. "Risk Tolerance, Self-Interest, and Social Preferences," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2009-04, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, revised Feb 2011.
    6. Lucy Ackert & Ann Gillette & Jorge Martinez-Vazquez & Mark Rider, 2011. "Are benevolent dictators altruistic in groups? A within-subject design," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(3), pages 307-321, September.
    7. Ochsen, Carsten, 2009. "Regional labor markets and aging in Germany," Thuenen-Series of Applied Economic Theory 102, University of Rostock, Institute of Economics.
    8. Michał Krawczyk & Maciej Wilamowski, 2015. "Are we all overconfident in the long run? Evidence from one million marathon participants," Working Papers 2015-01, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.

    More about this item


    performance; diversity; labor market; discrimination; stereotypes; age; experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • B49 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Other
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy
    • J38 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Public Policy
    • J70 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - General

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