Incentives, sorting and productivity along the career: Evidence from a sample of top economists
In this paper we study empirically the labor market of economists. We look at the mobility and promotion patterns of a sample of 1,000 top economists over thirty years and link it to their productivity and other personal characteristics. We find that the probability of promotion and of upward mobility is positively related to past production. However, the sensitivity of promotion and mobility to production diminishes with experience, indicating the presence of a learning process. We also find evidence that economists respond to incentives. They tend to exert more effort at the beginning of their career when dynamic incentives are important. This finding is robust to the introduction of tenure, which has an additional negative ex post impact on production. Our results indicate therefore that both promotions and tenure have an effect on the provision of incentives. Finally, we detect evidence of a sorting process, as the more productive individuals are allocated to the best ranked universities. We provide a very simple theoretical explanation of these results based on Holmström (1982) with heterogeneous firms.
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