June 2004

IZA DP No. 1193: Deferred Compensation and Gift Exchange: An Experimental Investigation into Multi-Period Labor Markets

published in: American Economic Review, 2011, 101 (2), 819-843

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.