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Pay Inequality, Pay Secrecy, and Effort: Theory and Evidence

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  • Gary Charness
  • Peter Kuhn

Abstract

We study worker and firm behavior in an efficiency-wage environment where co-workers' wages may potentially influence a worker's effort. Theoretically, we show that an increase in workers' responsiveness to co-workers' wages should lead profit-maximizing firms to compress wages under quite general conditions. Our laboratory experiments, on the other hand, show that --while workers' effort choices are highly sensitive to their own wages-- effort is not affected by co-workers' wages. As a consequence, even though firms in our experiment tended to compress wages when wages became public information, this did not raise their profits. Our experimental evidence therefore provides little support for the notion that inter-worker equity concerns can make wage compression, or wage secrecy, a profit-maximizing policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary Charness & Peter Kuhn, 2005. "Pay Inequality, Pay Secrecy, and Effort: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 11786, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11786
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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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    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 & Abdolkarim Sadrieh & Bettina Rockenbach, 2010. "In Search of Workers' Real Effort Reciprocity—a Field and a Laboratory Experiment," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 817-837, June.
    3. Abeler, Johannes & Altmann, Steffen & Kube, Sebastian & Wibral, Matthias, 2006. "Reciprocity and Payment Schemes: When Equality Is Unfair," IZA Discussion Papers 2500, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Angelova, Vera & Güth, Werner & Kocher, Martin G., 2012. "Co-employment of permanently and temporarily employed agents," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 48-58.
    5. Kocher, Martin G. & Luhan, Wolfgang J. & Sutter, Matthias, 2012. "Testing a forgotten aspect of Akerlof’s gift exchange hypothesis: Relational contracts with individual and uniform wages," Discussion Papers in Economics 12816, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    6. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2010. "Social Incentives in the Workplace," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 77(2), pages 417-458.
    7. Harley Frazis & Mark A Loewenstein, 2006. "Wage Compression and the Division of Returns to Productivity Growth: Evidence from EOPP," Working Papers 398, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    8. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2009. "Social Connections and Incentives in the Workplace: Evidence From Personnel Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(4), pages 1047-1094, July.
    9. Martin G. Kocher & Wolfgang J. Luhan & Matthias Sutter, 2012. "Testing a forgotten aspect of Akerlof�s gift exchange hypothesis: Relational contracts with individual and uniform wages," Working Papers 2012-02, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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