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Fair wages and effort provision: Combining evidence from the lab and the field

  • Alain Cohn
  • Ernst Fehr
  • Lorenz Goette

The presence of workers who reciprocate higher wages with greater effort can have important consequences for labor markets. Knowledge about the determinants of reciprocal effort choices is, however, incomplete. We investigate the role of fairness perceptions and social preferences in workers’ performance in a field experiment in which workers were hired for a one-time job. We show that workers who perceive being underpaid at the base wage increase their performance if the hourly wage increases, while those who feel adequately paid or overpaid at the base wage do not change their performance. Moreover, we find that only workers who display positive reciprocity in a lab experiment show reciprocal performance responses in the field, while workers who lack positive reciprocity in the lab do not respond to the wage increase even if they feel underpaid at the base wage. Our findings suggest that fairness perceptions and social preferences are key in workers’ performance response to a wage increase. They are the first direct evidence of the fair-wage effort hypothesis in the field and also help interpret previous contradictory findings in the literature.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics - University of Zurich in its series ECON - Working Papers with number 107.

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Date of creation: Jan 2013
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Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:107
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  1. Fehr, Ernst & Kirchsteiger, George & Riedl, Arno, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(2), pages 437-59, May.
  2. W. Bentley MacLeod & James M. Malcomson, 1986. "Implicit Contracts, Incentive Compatibility, and Involuntary Unemployment," Working Papers 585, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  3. 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.
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  6. Johannes Abeler & Armin Falk & Lorenz Goette & David Huffman, 2009. "Reference Points and Effort Provision," Discussion Papers 2009-02, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  7. Imran Rasul & Iwan Barankay & Orana Bandiera, 2005. "Social preferences and the response to incentives: Evidence from personnel data," Natural Field Experiments 00212, The Field Experiments Website.
  8. Charles Bellemare & Sabine Kröger & Arthur van Soest, 2008. "Measuring Inequity Aversion in a Heterogeneous Population Using Experimental Decisions and Subjective Probabilities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(4), pages 815-839, 07.
  9. Hennig-Schmidt, Heike & Rockenbach, Bettina & Sadrieh, Abdolkarim, 2008. "In Search of Workers' Real Effort Reciprocity - A Field and a Laboratory Experiment," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 238, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
  10. Ernst Fehr & Lorenz Götte, 2005. "Do Workers Work More if Wages are High? Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment," IEW - Working Papers 125, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  11. Kube, Sebastian & Maréchal, Michel André & Puppe, Clemens, 2011. "The currency of reciprocity - gift-exchange in the workplace," Working Paper Series in Economics 25, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Department of Economics and Business Engineering.
  12. Bandiera, Oriana & Barankay, Iwan & Rasul, Imran, 2008. "Social Connections and Incentives in the Workplace: Evidence from Personnel Data," IZA Discussion Papers 3917, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  13. Ernst Fehr & Lorenz Goette, . "Robustness and Real Consequences of Nominal Wage Rigidity," IEW - Working Papers 044, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  14. Antonio Cabrales & Antoni Calvo-Armengol & Nicola Pavoni, 2005. "Social Preferences, Skill Segregation, and Wage Dynamics," 2005 Meeting Papers 205, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  15. Abbink, Klaus & Bernd Irlenbusch & Elke Renner, 1997. "The Moonlighting Game - An Experimental Study on Reciprocity and Retribution," Discussion Paper Serie B 415, University of Bonn, Germany.
  16. Mas, Alexandre & Moretti, Enrico, 2006. "Peers at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 5870, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  17. Charness, Gary B, 1999. "Responsibility And Effort In An Experimental Labor Market," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt7x98w91h, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  18. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt4qz9k8vg, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  19. Gary Charness & Guillaume R. Frechette & John H. Kagel, 2004. "How Robust is Laboratory Gift Exchange?," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 189-205, 06.
  20. Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce, 2009. "Gift giving and worker productivity: Evidence from a firm-level experiment," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 233-244, September.
  21. R. Lynn Hannan & John H. Kagel & Donald V. Moser, 2002. "Partial Gift Exchange in an Experimental Labor Market: Impact of Subject Population Differences, Productivity Differences, and Effort Requests on Behavior," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 923-951, October.
  22. Akerlof, George A, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-69, November.
  23. Armin Falk, 2007. "Gift Exchange in the Field," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(5), pages 1501-1511, 09.
  24. Bellemare, Charles & Kröger, Sabine & van Soest, Arthur, 2011. "Preferences, intentions, and expectation violations: A large-scale experiment with a representative subject pool," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 78(3), pages 349-365, May.
  25. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L, 1990. "The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 255-83, May.
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