Despite equal pay legislation dating back 50 years, American women still earn 22% less than their male counterparts. In the UK, with its Equal Pay Act of 1970, and France, which legislated in 1972, the gap is 21% and 17% respectively, and in Australia it remains around 17%. Interestingly, the gender pay gap is relatively small for the young but increases as men and women grow older. Similarly, it is large when comparing married men and women, but smaller for singles. Just what can explain these wage patterns? And what can governments do to speed up wage convergence to close the gender pay gap? Clearly, the gender pay gap continues to be an important policy issue.
Behavioral and personnel economics
Behavioral economics analyzes the emotional and cognitive factors that influence the decisions of actors. Personnel economics analyzes the internal organizational strategy of the firm and the human resource management practices chosen to pursue that strategy.
Kathryn Shaw Stanford University, USA, and IZA Germany
Michael Gibbs University of Chicago, USA, and IZA Germany
Benedikt Herrmann University of Nottingham, UK
Peter J. Kuhn University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, and IZA, Germany
Niels C. Westergård-Nielsen Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and IZA, Germany
Survey and register data indicate that many employees prefer a socially responsible employer and will accept a lower wage to achieve this. Laboratory experiments support the hypothesis that socially responsible groups are more productive than others, partly because they attract cooperative types, partly because initial cooperation is reinforced by group dynamics. Overall, the findings indicate corporate social responsibility may have cost advantages for firms.
Women’s representation on corporate boards, political committees, and other teams is increasing, in part because of legal mandates. Understanding the effects of gender diversity in terms of economic performance is important to assess the impact of these changes. Data on team dynamics and gender differences in preferences (risk-taking behavior, taste for competition, prosocial behavior) show how gender composition influences group decision-making and subsequent performance through channels such as investment decisions, internal management, corporate governance, and social responsibility.
by Ulf Rinne
The use of anonymous job applications to combat hiring discrimination is gaining attention and interest. Results from a number of field experiments in European countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden are considered here) shed light on their potential to reduce some of the discriminatory barriers to hiring for minority and other disadvantaged groups. But although this approach can achieve its primary aims, there are also some cautions to consider.
Anti-discrimination policies play an important role in public discussions. However, identifying discriminatory practices in the labor market is not an easy task. Correspondence testing provides a credible way to reveal discrimination in hiring and provide hard facts for policies. The method involves sending matched pairs of identical job applications to employers posting jobs—the only difference being a characteristic that signals membership to a group.
by Nina Smith
Arguments for increasing gender diversity on boards of directors range from ensuring equal opportunity to improving firm performance, but the empirical results are mixed and often negative. Current research does not justify gender quotas on grounds of economic efficiency. Furthermore, in most countries the number of women qualified to join boards of directors is limited, and it is not clear from the evidence that quotas lead to a larger pool of qualified female candidates in the medium and long term.
The escalation in chief executive officer (CEO) pay over recent decades, both in absolute terms and in relation to the earnings of production workers, has generated considerable attention. The pay of top executives has grown noticeably in relation to overall firm profitability. The pay gap between CEOs in the US and those in other developed countries narrowed substantially during the 2000s, making top executive pay an international concern. Researchers have taken positions on both sides of the debate over whether the level of CEO pay is economically justified or is the result of managerial power.
by Hideo Owan
The keys to effective teamwork in firms are (1) carefully designed team-formation policies that take into account what level of diversity of skills, knowledge, and demographics is desirable and (2) balanced team-based incentives. Employers need to choose policies that maximize the gains from teamwork through task coordination, problem solving, peer monitoring, and peer learning. Unions and labor market regulations may facilitate or hinder firms’ attempts at introducing teams and team-based incentives.
Alternative dispute resolution procedures such as arbitration and mediation are the most common methods for resolving wage, contract, and grievance disputes, but they lead to varying levels of success and acceptability of the outcome depending on their design. Some innovative procedures, not yet implemented in the real world, are predicted to improve on existing procedures in some ways. But controlled tests of several procedures show that the simple addition of a nonbinding stage prior to binding dispute resolution can produce the best results in terms of cost (monetary and “uncertainty” costs) and acceptability.
by Armin Falk
How do firms motivate their employees to be productive? The conventional wisdom is that workers respond to monetary incentives—“Pay them more and they will work harder.” However, a large and growing body of empirical evidence from laboratory and field experiments, surveys, and observational data, as well as neuroeconomic research, suggests that workers’ perceptions of fairness and trust are also key drivers of their work effort. Treating employees with respect is not only ethically warranted, it can create positive economic outcomes for both the worker and the firm.
Many studies document a large negative effect of unemployment on happiness. Recent research has looked into factors related to impacts on happiness, such as adaptation, social work norms, social capital, religious beliefs, and psychological resources. Getting unemployed people back to work can do more for their happiness than compensating them for doing nothing. But not all unemployed people are equally unhappy. Understanding the differences holds the key to designing effective policies, for helping the unemployed back into work, and for more evenly distributing the burden of unemployment resulting from economic restructuring.
Happy people are healthier and more creative, productive, and sociable. Because of these positive effects of happiness, it is in the interest of countries to attract and retain happy people. With respect to the decision to migrate, the central question becomes whether people who are happier and more satisfied with their lives are more or less likely to migrate. The evidence so far is mixed. Correlational studies find that prospective migrants are less happy than people who are not intending to migrate, while one study controlling for reverse causality suggests that the desire to migrate increases with life satisfaction.
by Carol Graham
Flexible work time and retirement options are a potential solution for the challenges of unemployment, aging populations, and unsustainable pensions systems around the world. Voluntary part-time workers in Europe and the US are happier, experience less stress and anger, and are more satisfied with their jobs than other employees. Late-life workers, meanwhile, have higher levels of well-being than retirees. The feasibility of a policy that is based on more flexible work arrangements will vary across economies and sectors, but the ongoing debate about these multi-tiered challenges should at least consider such arrangements.
Studies from countries with laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation suggest that gay and lesbian employees report more incidents of harassment and are more likely to report experiencing unfair treatment in the labor market than are heterosexual employees. Gay men are found to earn less than comparably skilled and experienced heterosexual men. For lesbians, the patterns are ambiguous: in some countries they have been found to earn less than their heterosexual counterparts, while in others they earn the same or more. Both gay men and lesbians tend to be less satisfied with their jobs than their heterosexual counterparts.
Deregulation and managerial compensation are two important topics on the political and academic agenda. The former has been a significant policy recommendation in light of the negative effects associated with overly restrictive regulation on markets and the economy. The latter relates to the sharp increase in top executives’ pay and the nature of the link between pay and performance. To the extent that product-market competition can affect the incentive schemes offered by firms to their executives, the analysis of the effects of competition on the structure of compensation may be informative for policy purposes.
by Mirco Tonin
Employees show more commitment to an employer that promotes the greater good, and they work harder too. Moreover, many people are willing to give up some of their compensation to contribute to a social cause. Being able to attract a motivated workforce would be particularly important for the public sector, but this goal remains elusive. Indeed, there is evidence for the public sector that paying people more or underlining the career opportunities (as opposed to the social aspects) associated with public sector jobs is instrumental in attracting a more productive workforce, without having a negative impact on intrinsic motivation.
by Xi Chen
People who are unable to maintain the same standard of living as others around them experience a sense of relative deprivation that has been shown to reduce feelings of well-being. Relative deprivation reflects conditions of worsening relative poverty despite striking reductions in absolute poverty. The effects of relative deprivation explain why average happiness has been stagnant over time despite sharp rises in income. Consumption taxes on status-seeking spending, along with official and traditional sanctions on excess consumption and redistributive policies may lessen the negative impact of relative deprivation on well-being.
Workers participating in firm-sponsored training receive higher wages as a result. But given that firms pay the majority of costs for training, shouldn’t they also benefit? Empirical evidence shows that this is in fact the case. Firm-sponsored training leads to higher productivity levels and increased innovation, both of which benefit the firm. Training can also be complementary to, and enhance, other types of firm investment, particularly in physical capital, such as information and communication technology (ICT), and in organizational capital, such as the implementation of high-performance workplace practices.
by Jo Ritzen
Measures of individual happiness, or well-being, can guide labor market policies. Individual unemployment, as well as the rate of unemployment in society, have a negative effect on happiness. In contrast, employment protection and unemployment benefits can contribute to happiness—though when such policies prolong unemployment, the net effect on national happiness is negative. Active labor market policies that create more job opportunities increase happiness, which in turn increases productivity. Measures of individual happiness should therefore guide labor market policy more explicitly.
Many firms offer employees a remuneration package that links pay to performance as a means of motivation. It also improves efficiency and reduces turnover and absenteeism. The effects on productivity depend on the type of scheme employed (individual or group performance) and its design (commissions, piece-rate or sharing schemes). Individual incentives demonstrate the largest effect, while group or team incentives are smaller in magnitude. The case for government intervention through tax breaks and other financial incentives is highly debated due to differences across firms and the potential for economic inefficiencies.
Concerns about poor student performance have led schools to diverge from traditional teacher compensation and base a portion of pay on student outcomes. In the US, the number of school districts adopting such performance-based financial incentives has increased by more than 40% since 2004. Evidence on individual incentives in developed countries is mixed, with some positive and some negligible impacts. There is less evidence for developing countries, but several studies indicate that incentives can be highly effective and far cheaper to implement. Innovative incentive mechanisms such as incentives based on relative student performance show promise.
A wide range of high involvement management practices, such as self-managed teams, incentive pay schemes, and employer-provided training have been shown to boost firms’ productivity and financial performance. However, less is known about whether these practices, which give employees more discretion and autonomy, also benefit employees. Recent empirical research that aims to account for employee self-selection into firms that apply these practices finds generally positive effects on employee health and other important aspects of well-being at work. However, the effects can differ in different institutional settings.
Employers want motivated and productive employees. Are there ways to increase employee motivation without relying solely on monetary incentives, such as pay-for-performance schemes? One tool that has shown promise in recent decades for improving worker performance is setting goals, whether they are assigned by management or self-chosen. Goals are powerful motivators for workers, with the potential for boosting productivity in an organization. However, if not chosen carefully or if used in unsuitable situations, goals can have undesired and harmful consequences. Goals are a powerful tool that needs to be applied with caution.
by Joni Hersch
Workplace sexual harassment is internationally condemned as sex discrimination and a violation of human rights, and more than 75 countries have enacted legislation prohibiting it. Sexual harassment in the workplace increases absenteeism and turnover and lowers workplace productivity and job satisfaction. Yet it remains pervasive and underreported, and neither legislation nor market incentives have been able to eliminate it. Strong workplace policies prohibiting sexual harassment, workplace training, and a complaints process that protects workers from retaliation seem to offer the most promise in reducing sexual harassment.
Many measures of job satisfaction have been trending downward. Because jobs are a key part of most people’s lives, knowing what makes a good job (job quality) is vital to knowing how well society is doing. Integral to worker well-being, job quality also affects the labor market through related decisions on whether to work, whether to quit, and how much effort to put into a job. Empirical work on what constitutes a good job finds that workers value more than wages; they also value job security and interest in their work. Policy to affect job quality requires information on the cost of the different aspects of job quality and how much workers value them.
Economists typically predict that people are inherently selfish; however, experimental evidence suggests that this is often not the case. In particular, delegating a choice (such as a wage) to the performing party may imbue this party with a sense of responsibility, leading to improved outcomes for both the delegating entity and the performing party. This strategy can be risky, as some people will still choose to act in a selfish manner, causing adverse consequences for productivity and earnings. An important issue to consider is therefore how to encourage a sense of responsibility in the performing party.
by Tony Fang
Profit sharing can lead to higher productivity and thus to higher firm profitability and employee wages. It may also enhance employment stability by enabling firms to adjust wages during downturns rather than lay off workers. While adoption of profit sharing increases earnings fluctuations, it also increases earnings growth in the longer term. As with any group incentive plan, profit sharing may result in some workers benefiting from the effort of others without themselves exerting greater effort (“free-rider problem”). However, there is evidence that in team-based production workplaces, profit sharing may reduce shirking and thus contribute to productivity growth.
Imagine a government confronted with a controversial policy question, like whether it should cut the level of unemployment benefits. Will social welfare rise as a result? Will some groups be winners and other groups be losers? Will the welfare gap between the employed and unemployed increase? “Happiness data” offer a new way to make these kinds of evaluations. These data allow us to track the well-being of the whole population, and also sub-groups like the employed and unemployed people, and correlate the results with relevant policy changes.
Allowing workers to control their work hours (working-time autonomy) is a controversial policy for worker empowerment, with concerns that range from increased shirking to excessive intensification of work. Empirical evidence, however, supports neither view. Recent studies find that working-time autonomy improves individual and firm performance without promoting overload or exhaustion from work. However, if working-time autonomy is incorporated into a system of family-friendly workplace practices, firms may benefit from the trade-off between (more) fringe benefits and (lower) wages but not from increased productivity.
Firms regularly use incentives to motivate their employees to be more productive. However, often little attention is paid to the language used in employment contracts to describe these incentives. It may be more effective to present incentives as entitlements that can be lost by failing to reach a performance target, rather than as additional rewards that can be gained by reaching that target. However, emphasizing the potential losses incurred as a result of failure may entail hidden costs for the employer, as it may damage the trust relationship between a firm and its employees.
Standard economic theory suggests that individuals know best how to make themselves happy. Thus, policies designed to encourage “better” behaviors will only reduce people’s happiness. Recently, however, economists have explored the role of impatience, especially difficulties with delaying gratification, in several important economic choices. There is strong evidence that some people have trouble following through on investments that best serve their long-term interests. These findings open the door to policies encouraging or requiring better behaviors, which would allow people to commit to the choices they truly want to make.
Differences in labor market outcomes for women and men are highly persistent. Apart from discrimination, one frequently mentioned explanation could be differences in the attitude towards competition for both genders. Abundant empirical evidence indicates that multiple influences shape attitudes towards competition during different periods of the life cycle. Gender differences in competitiveness will not only influence outcomes during working age, but also during early childhood education. In order to reduce the gender gap in educational and labor market outcomes, it is crucial to understand when and why gender gaps in competitiveness arise and to study their consequences.
by Jed DeVaro
Hiring is one of a firm’s most important decisions. When an employer fills a vacancy with one of its own workers (through promotion or lateral transfer), it forgoes the opportunity to fill the position with a new hire from outside the firm. Although both internal and external hiring methods are used, firms frequently have a bias favoring insiders. Internal and external hires differ in observable characteristics (such as skill levels), as do the employers making each type of hiring decision. Understanding those differences helps employers design and manage hiring policies that are appropriate for their organizations.
Early studies often found that offering economic incentives for undertaking prosocial and intrinsically motivated activities can crowd out motivation to perform these activities. More recent work highlights nuanced and important features related to whether crowding out (or substitution) is likely to occur. In many cases, incentives succeed in encouraging more prosocial behavior and are also cost-effective. However, although the substitution of external incentives for intrinsic motivation may not be a concern in many contexts, the substitution of one prosocial activity for another or shifts in activities over time or location may warrant further attention.
About one in five workers across OECD countries is employed part-time, and the share has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the economic and financial crisis in 2007. Part-time options play an important economic role by providing more flexible working arrangements for both workers and firms. Part-time employment has also contributed substantially to increasing the employment rate, especially among women. However, part-time work comes at a cost of lower wages for workers, mainly because part-time jobs are concentrated in lower paying occupations and sectors, while the impact on firms’ productivity is still not very clear.
Many experimental studies and surveys have shown that women consistently display more risk-averse behavior than men when confronted with decisions involving risk. These differences in risk preferences, when combined with gender differences in other behavioral traits, such as fondness for competition, have been used to explain important phenomena in labor and financial markets. Recent evidence has challenged this consensus, however, finding gender differences in risk attitudes to be smaller than previously thought and showing greater heterogeneity of results depending on the method used to measure risk aversion.
by Ronnie Schöb
Unemployment not only causes material hardship but can also affect an individual’s sense of identity (i.e. their perception of belonging to a specific social group) and, consequently, feelings of personal happiness and subjective well-being. Labor market policies designed to help the unemployed may not overcome their misery: wage subsidies can be stigmatizing, workfare may not provide the intended incentives, and flexicurity (a system that combines a flexible labor market with active policy measures), may increase uncertainty. Policies aimed at bringing people back to work should thus take the subjective well-being of the affected persons more into consideration.
Public transport infrastructure has not kept up with the demands of growing populations in cities in developing countries. Infrastructure provision has historically been biased against less affluent areas, so access to formal jobs is often difficult and costly for a large part of the lower-income population. As a result, low-income workers may be discouraged from commuting to formal jobs, lack information on job opportunities, and face discrimination. Through these channels, constrained accessibility can result in higher rates of job informality. Reducing informality can be a target for well-designed transport policies.
Higher wages increase labor costs but also improve the productivity of the labor force in several ways. If firms take this into account and set their wages accordingly, the resulting wages could fail to adjust demand and supply but may induce phenomena like over-education, discrimination, regional wage differentials, and a tendency for larger firms to pay higher wages. All these phenomena are quantitatively important and well-established empirically. Efficiency wage theory provides an integrated theoretical explanation rather than a sundry list of reasons, and offers an efficiency argument for progressive income taxation.
Private charitable contributions play an essential role in most economies. Despite the existence of welfare states, people contribute money and supply volunteer labor to charity. From a policy perspective, there is concern that comprehensive government spending might crowd out these private charitable donations. If perfect crowding out occurs, then every dollar spent by the government will lead to a one-for-one decrease in private spending, leaving the total level of welfare unaltered. Understanding the magnitude and causes of crowding out is crucial, as it represents a hidden cost to public spending and can thus have significant impacts on public welfare.
Tournaments are commonly used in the workplace to determine promotion, assign bonuses, and motivate personal development. Tournament-based contracts can be very effective in eliciting high effort, often outperforming other compensation contracts, but they can also have negative consequences for both managers and workers. The benefits and disadvantages of workplace tournaments have been identified in an explosion of theoretical, empirical, and experimental research over the past 30 years. Based on these findings, suggestions and guidelines can be provided for when it might be beneficial to use tournaments in the workplace.
by Boris Hirsch
There are pronounced and persistent wage differences between men and women in all parts of the world. A significant element of these wage disparities can be attributed to differences in worker and workplace characteristics, which are likely to mirror differences in worker productivity. However, a large part of these differences remains unexplained, and it is common to attribute them to discrimination by the employer that is rooted in prejudice against female workers. Yet recent empirical evidence suggests that, to a large extent, the gaps reflect “monopsonistic” wage discrimination—that is, employers exploiting their wage-setting power over women—rather than any sort of prejudice.
Should one expect a worker’s productivity, and thus wage, to depend on the productivity of his/her co-workers in the same workplace, even if the workers carry out completely independent tasks and do not engage in team work? This may well be the case because social interaction among co-workers can lead to productivity spillover through knowledge spillover or peer pressure. The available empirical evidence suggests that, due to such peer effects, co-worker productivity positively affects a worker’s own productivity and wage, particularly in lower-skilled occupations.
Can a company attract a different type of employee by changing its compensation scheme? Is it sufficient to pay more to increase employees’ motivation? Should a firm provide evaluation feedback to employees based on their absolute or their relative performance? Laboratory experiments can help address these questions by identifying the causal impact of variations in personnel policy on employees’ productivity and mobility. Although they are collected in an artificial environment, the qualitative external validity of findings from the lab is now well recognized.
Employee ownership has attracted growing attention for its potential to improve economic outcomes for companies, workers, and the economy in general, and help reduce inequality. Over 100 studies across many countries indicate that employee ownership is generally linked to better productivity, pay, job stability, and firm survival—though the effects are dispersed and causation is difficult to firmly establish. Free-riding often appears to be overcome by worker co-monitoring and reciprocity. Financial risk is an important concern but is generally minimized by higher pay and job stability among employee owners.
Recently, large companies like Google have made substantial investments in the well-being of their workers. While evidence shows that better performing companies have happier employees, there has been much less research on whether happy employees contribute to better company performance. Finding causal relations between employee well-being and company performance is important for firms to justify spending corporate resources to provide a happier work environment for their employees. While correlational and laboratory studies do find a positive relationship, the evidence remains sparse.
Higher inequality reduces capital accumulation and increases the informal economy, which creates additional employment opportunities for low-skilled and deprived people. Despite this positive feedback, informality raises problems for public finances and biases official statistics, reducing the effectiveness of redistributive policies. Policymakers should consider the links between inequality and informality because badly designed informality-reducing policies may increase inequality. However, convincing empirical evidence is still lacking and is usually limited to correlations rather than causal effects.
Charity rating agencies often focus on overhead cost ratios in evaluating charities, and donors appear to be sensitive to these measures when deciding where to donate. Yet, there appears to be a tenuous connection between this widely-used metric and a charity’s effectiveness. There is evidence that a focus on overhead costs leads charities to underinvest in important functions, especially skilled workers. To evaluate policies that regulate overhead costs, it is necessary to examine whether donors care about overhead costs, whether they are good measures of charity effectiveness, and what effects a focus on overhead costs has on charities.
Employment tribunals or labor courts are responsible for enforcing employment protection legislation and adjudicating rights-based disputes between employers and employees. Claim numbers are high and, in Great Britain, have been rising, affecting both administrative costs and economic competitiveness. Reforms have attempted to reduce the number of claims and to improve the speed and efficiency of dealing with them. Balancing employee protection against cost-effectiveness remains difficult, however. Gathering evidence on tribunals, including on claim instigation, resolution, decision making, and post-tribunal outcomes can inform policy efforts.
Managers are supervising more and more workers, and firms are getting flatter. However, not all firms have been keen on increasing the number of subordinates that their bosses manage (referred to as the “span of control” in human resource management), contending that there are limits to leveraging managerial ability. The diversity of firms’ organizational structure suggests that no universal rule can be applied. Identifying the factors behind the choice of firms’ internal organization is crucial and will help firms properly design their hierarchy and efficiently allocate scarce managerial resources within the organization.
by Francis Green
We live in uncertain times. Eight years on from the Great Recession of 2008, and still one in ten workers across Europe is unemployed—that’s 21 million people. Global growth is faltering a...
by Joni Hersch
Sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of behaviors, from suggestive jokes and demeaning comments based on gender stereotypes, to explicit requests or demands for sexual favors, to sexual assault ...
by Jed DeVaro
A frequent question in organizations is whether to hire from within or outside the firm when filling job vacancies. The answer matters, because “insiders” and “outsiders” diffe...
by Tony Fang
Profit sharing, a formal bonus program based on profitability, has a long history and is a practice that many firms continue to adopt. Recently, there has been considerable debate about whether empl...
by Daniel S. Hamermesh
Today is Labor Day in the US, a holiday initially scheduled in contradistinction to what was viewed as the socialist labor holiday of May 1. It is a good time for asking how much we really work, since...
by Claudio Lucifora
Do firms that offer their employees a compensation package linking pay to performance have higher productivity? Many firms around the world have attempted to improve their performance by replacing tr...
by Susan L. Averett
Rising obesity rates plague many countries around the world; in some cases obesity has even replaced smoking as the most pressing public health problem. The potential health care costs of rising obesi...
by Nicola Lacetera
Millions of people volunteer their time to help the elderly, serve in soup kitchens, donate blood, clean beaches, and so on. Without the contribution of these individuals, many public goods and servic...
by Eva Sierminska
Have you ever wondered how much time your colleagues spend getting ready for work? How much earlier do they need to get up to look that great? Is it really worth it? In my recent IZA World of Labor a...