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Estimating The Age-Productivity Profile Using Lifetime Earnings


  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff


Understanding how productivity varies with age is important for a variety of reasons. A decline in productivity with age implies that aging societies must increasingly depend on the labor supply of the young and middle age. It also means that policies designed to keep the elderly in the work force, while potentially good for the elderly, may decrease overall productivity. A third implication is that, absent government intervention, employers may not be willing to hire the elderly for the same compensation as younger workers. Labor economists are particularly interested in the relationship of productivity and age because it can help test alternative theories of the labor market. This paper assumes risk neutral employers and estimates the age-productivity relationship using the first order condition that the present expected value of total compensation equals the present expected value of productivity; workers hired at different ages have different present expected values of total compensation, and, correspondingly, different present expected values of productivity. Hence, if one parameterizes the age-productivity relationship, the parameters of this relationship can be identified from information on how total present expected compensation varies with age. The data in the study are earnings histories for over three hundred thousand employees of a Fortune 1000 corporation covering the period 1969-1983. While the results may be subject to several biases and should be viewed cautiously, they are fairly striking. For each of the five sex-occupation groups, productivity falls with age. For young workers, compensation (earnings plus pension accrual) is below productivity and for older workers compensation exceeds productivity. For several worker groups the discrepancy between compensation and productivity is very substantial. In addition to confirming some features of contract theory, the results lend support to the bonding models of Becker and Stigler and Lazear which suggest that firms use the age-earnings profile as an incentive device.

Suggested Citation

  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1988. "Estimating The Age-Productivity Profile Using Lifetime Earnings," NBER Working Papers 2788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2788
    Note: AG LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-620, September.
    2. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Daniel E. Smith, 1983. "The Structure of Private Pension Plans," NBER Chapters,in: Pensions in the American Economy, pages 163-289 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Joseph Altonji & R. Shakotko, 1985. "Do Wages Rise with Job Seniority?," Working Papers 567, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    4. James L. Medoff & Katharine G. Abraham, 1980. "Experience, Performance, and Earnings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 95(4), pages 703-736.
    5. Joseph G. Altonji & Robert A. Shakotko, 1985. "Do Wages Rise With Job Seniority?," NBER Working Papers 1616, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Abraham, Katharine G & Farber, Henry S, 1987. "Job Duration, Seniority, and Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 278-297, June.
    7. repec:fth:prinin:187 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Joseph G. Altonji & Robert A. Shakotko, 1985. "Do Wages Rise with Job Seniority?," Working Papers 567, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
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    Cited by:

    1. Stephan Brunow & Georg Hirte, 2009. "The age pattern of human capital and regional productivity: A spatial econometric study on german regions," Papers in Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 88(4), pages 799-823, November.
    2. Sidonia von Ledebur, 2009. "Patent Productivity of German Professors over the Life Cycle," Working Papers on Innovation and Space 2009-03, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    3. Thomas Strobel, 2014. "Directed technological change, skill complementarities and sectoral productivity growth: evidence from industrialized countries during the new economy," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 42(3), pages 255-275, December.

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