IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Incentive-Enhancing Preferences: Personality, Behavior and Earnings


  • Samuel Bowles
  • Herbert Gintis
  • Melissa Osborne


Suppose there is a principal-agent relationship between employer and employee in which effort is not contractible, but is elicited through employer incentive mechanisms. We term preferences that allow the employer to elicit effort at lower cost incentive enhancing. We analyze how such preferences affect earnings, and then provide evidence that one of the relevant behavioral traits, efficacy, as well as other psychological aspects of individuals, are signifiant influences on earnings. We conclude that measures of cognitive performance are not sufficient indicators of the effectiveness of schools in promoting student labor market success, incentive enhancing preferences are irreducibly heterogeneous, incentive enhancing preferences help explain the persistence of poverty over generations within families and, unlike cognitive skills, incentive-enhancing traits need not be welfare increasing for their bearers.

Suggested Citation

  • Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis & Melissa Osborne, 2001. "Incentive-Enhancing Preferences: Personality, Behavior and Earnings," Working Papers 01-01-004, Santa Fe Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:01-01-004

    Download full text from publisher

    To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
    1. Check below whether another version of this item is available online.
    2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
    3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James Heckman, 2011. "Policies to foster human capital," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 3, pages 73-137.
    2. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis & Melissa Osborne, 2000. "The Determinants of Earnings: Skills, Preferences, and Schooling," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-07, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • M54 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Labor Management

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:01-01-004. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Thomas Krichel). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.