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Personnel Economics: Past Lessons and Future Directions

  • Edward P. Lazear

In 1987, the Journal of Labor Economics published an issue on the economics of personnel. Since then, personnel economics, defined as the application of labor economics principles to business issues, has become a major part of labor economics, now accounting for a substantial proportion of papers in this and other journals. Much of the work in personnel economics has been theoretical, in large part because the data needed to test these theories has not been available. In recent years, a number of firm-based data sets have surfaced that allow personnel economics to be tested. Using two such data sets, the implications of theories that relate to life-cycle incentives compression, and peer pressure are given support. The conclusion is that personnel economics is real. It is far more than a set of clever theories. It has relevance to the real world. Additionally, firm-based data make asking and answering new kinds of questions feasible. The value of research in this area is high because so little is known as compared with other fields in labor economics. Questions about the importance of a worker's relative position in a firm, about intrafirm mobility, about the effect of the firm's business environment on worker welfare, about the significance of first impressions can be answered using the new data. Finally, it is argued that the importance of personnel economics in undergraduate as well as business school curricula will continue to grow.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6957.

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Date of creation: Feb 1999
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Publication status: published as JLE, Vol. 17, no. 2 (April 1999): 199-236.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6957
Note: LS
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  1. 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.
  2. McCue, Kristin, 1996. "Promotions and Wage Growth," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(2), pages 175-209, April.
  3. Michael Waldman, 1984. "Job Assignments, Signalling, and Efficiency," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(2), pages 255-267, Summer.
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  5. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-84, December.
  6. D. Gale Johnson, 1950. "Resource Allocation under Share Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 111.
  7. Knoeber, Charles R & Thurman, Walter N, 1994. "Testing the Theory of Tournaments: An Empirical Analysis of Broiler Production," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(2), pages 155-79, April.
  8. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  9. Ronald G. Ehrenberg & Michael L. Bognanno, 1988. "Do Tournaments Have Incentive Effects?," NBER Working Papers 2638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Lazear, Edward P, 1981. "Agency, Earnings Profiles, Productivity, and Hours Restrictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 606-20, September.
  11. Eriksson, Tor, 1999. "Executive Compensation and Tournament Theory: Empirical Tests on Danish Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(2), pages 262-80, April.
  12. Edward P. Lazear, 1996. "Performance Pay and Productivity," NBER Working Papers 5672, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Hutchens, Robert M, 1987. "A Test of Lazear's Theory of Delayed Payment Contracts," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(4), pages S153-70, October.
  14. Drago, Robert & Garvey, Gerald T, 1998. "Incentives for Helping on the Job: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 1-25, January.
  15. Sherwin Rosen, 1985. "Prizes and Incentives in Elimination Tournaments," NBER Working Papers 1668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. George A. Akerlof & Lawrence F. Katz, 1988. "Workers' Trust Funds and the Logic of Wage Profiles," NBER Working Papers 2548, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Joanne Salop & Steven Salop, 1976. "Self-Selection and Turnover in the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 90(4), pages 619-627.
  18. Edward P. Lazear, 1995. "Personnel Economics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262121883.
  19. George Baker & Michael Gibbs & Bengt Holmstrom, 1994. "The Internal Economics of the Firm: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(4), pages 881-919.
  20. Joanne Salop & Steven C. Salop, 1976. "Self-selection and turnover in the labor market," Special Studies Papers 80, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  21. Hutchens, Robert M, 1989. "Seniority, Wages and Productivity: A Turbulent Decade," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 49-64, Fall.
  22. Knoeber, Charles R, 1989. "A Real Game of Chicken: Contracts, Tournaments, and the Production of Broilers," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 271-92, Fall.
  23. Bull, Clive & Schotter, Andrew & Weigelt, Keith, 1985. "Tournaments and Piece Rates: An Experimental Study," Working Papers 85-21, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  24. Edward P. Lazear & Paul Oyer, 2012. "Personnel Economics
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  25. Ross, Stephen A, 1973. "The Economic Theory of Agency: The Principal's Problem," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(2), pages 134-39, May.
  26. Lazear, Edward P, 1986. "Salaries and Piece Rates," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 405-31, July.
  27. Gary S. Becker, 1962. "Investment in Human Capital: A Theoretical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 9.
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