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The Labor Economics of Paid Crowdsourcing

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Crowdsourcing is a form of "peer production" in which work traditionally performed by an employee is outsourced to an "undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call." We present a model of workers supplying labor to paid crowdsourcing projects. We also introduce a novel method for estimating a worker's reservation wage--the smallest wage a worker is willing to accept for a task and the key parameter in our labor supply model. It shows that the reservation wages of a sample of workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk (AMT) are approximately log normally distributed, with a median wage of $1.38/hour. At the median wage, the point elasticity of extensive labor supply is 0.43. We discuss how to use our calibrated model to make predictions in applied work. Two experimental tests of the model show that many workers respond rationally to offered incentives. However, a non-trivial fraction of subjects appear to set earnings targets. These "target earners" consider not just the offered wage--which is what the rational model predicts--but also their proximity to earnings goals. Interestingly, a number of workers clearly prefer earning total amounts evenly divisible by 5, presumably because these amounts make good targets.


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