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Incentives for Effort or Outputs? A Field Experiment to Improve Student Performance

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  • Sarojini Hirshleifer

    () (Department of Economics, University of California Riverside)

Abstract

One key choice in designing an incentive is whether to reward outcomes directly (outputs) or to reward the actions and behaviors that lead to those outcomes (effort/inputs). I conduct a novel direct test of an input incentive designed to increase student effort against both an output incentive and a control that does not receive an incentive. The interventions were implemented in a classroom-level randomized experiment with school children in India. A math software curriculum is implemented in all classrooms regardless of which activity is incentivized. It includes learning modules (the incentivized input) that are completed throughout a unit as well as a test at the end of the unit (the incentivized output). The two incentives are both piecerate and announced at the beginning of each unit. Students who receive an input incentive perform .57 standard deviations better than the control group on a non-incentivized outcome test. This performance is statistically significantly larger than the impact of the output incentive (which .24 standard deviations and not significant relative to the control). The input incentive is also almost twice as cost-effective as the output incentive. These results provide evidence that there can be large returns to directly inducing student effort in the classroom. The input incentive works better for present-biased students along an incentive-compatible measure of time preferences collected at baseline, which provides evidence to support the hypothesis that more frequent payments can address time inconsistency. This study also provides direct evidence that piecerate input incentives can be more effective than piecerate output incentives.

Suggested Citation

  • Sarojini Hirshleifer, 2017. "Incentives for Effort or Outputs? A Field Experiment to Improve Student Performance," Working Papers 201701, University of California at Riverside, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucr:wpaper:201701
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    File URL: https://economics.ucr.edu/repec/ucr/wpaper/201701.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2017
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:aea:aecrev:v:109:y:2019:i:4:p:1426-60 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Karthik Muralidharan & Abhijeet Singh & Alejandro J. Ganimian, 2019. "Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(4), pages 1426-1460, April.
    3. Lester Lusher, 2016. "College Better: Parimutuel Betting Markets as a Commitment Device and Monetary Incentive," Natural Field Experiments 00561, The Field Experiments Website.
    4. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List & Sally Sadoff, 2016. "The Effect of Performance-Based Incentives on Educational Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment," NBER Working Papers 22107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Elizabeth Lyons, 2016. "The Impact of Job-Specific Training on Short-Term Worker Performance: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00572, The Field Experiments Website.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D99 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Other
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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