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Deferred Compensation and Gift Exchange: An Experimental Investigation into Multi-Period Labor Markets



This paper examines the relationship between firms’ wage offers and workers’ supply of effort using a three-period experiment. In equilibrium, firms will offer deferred compensation: first period productivity is positive and wages are zero, while third period productivity is zero and wages are positive. The experiment produces strong evidence that deferred compensation increases worker effort; in about 70 percent of cases subjects supplied the optimal effort given the wage offer, and there was a strong effort response to future-period wages. We also find some evidence of gift exchange; worker players increased the effort levels in response to above equilibrium wage offers by a human, but not in response to similar offers by a computer. Finally, we find that firm players who are initially hesitant to defer compensation learn over time that it is beneficial to do so.

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