This is a list of permanent working papers, and they are not subject to further editing.
This paper presents a model of the labor market in which unemployed workers are uncertain about their relative ability to find a job. Unsuccessful search induces individuals to revise their beliefs downwards. Once self-confidence is sufficiently low, workers become discouraged and give up on search. This non-stationarity gives rise to structural flows from unemployment to non-participation in equilibrium. In contrast, existing models typically maintain stationarity and appeal to exogenous stochastic shocks to generate transitions from unemployment to non-participation. Our model is based on relaxing a single assumption in a standard matching framework – workers are uncertain about their job finding probability – and yet the model generates a variety of important implications. Our alternative assumption is supported by experimental evidence. The first implication of the model is a declining hazard from unemployment to employment, arising due to erosion of self-confidence in search. Second, because search outcomes are only a noisy signal about ability, some individuals can become overly discouraged and stop search too early due to wrong beliefs. Finally, workers with greater unemployment duration are less confident, and thus have a worse threat point in wage bargaining. Consequentially, they earn lower starting wages even if they are identical in terms of objective productivity. We discuss how the model provides a new, unifying explanation for a variety of import ant facts from field evidence.
Prominent economic theories have emphasized the role of commonly held perceptions and expectations for determining macroeconomic outcomes. A key empirical question is how such collectively held beliefs are formed. We use the FIFA World Cup 2006 as a natural experiment. We provide direct evidence that seemingly irrelevant events (the outcomes of soccer matches) can systematically affect individual perceptions about economic prospects, both on a personal and economy-wide level.
Standard search theory assumes that individuals know, with certainty, how they compare to competing searchers in terms of ability. In contrast, we hypothesize that searchers are uncertain about relative ability, with important implications for search behavior. We test our hypotheses in a laboratory experiment. The first main finding is that people are substantially uncertain about whether they are a type with a high or low probability of success, determined by being above or below the median in terms of ability. Self-confidence, defined as an individual’s self-assessed probability of being a high type, is too high (above zero) for many low types, and too low (below 1) for many high types. Second, people update beliefs based on search outcomes. Self-confidence increases or decreases in the right direction, but is less sensitive to new information than predicted by Bayes’ rule. Third, updating affects future search decisions: people are less likely to search as confidence about being a high type falls. Fourth, some search too little, and others search too much, due to wrong beliefs. Fifth, at the end of the experiment a substantial fraction turn down the chance to learn their exact rank. These are overwhelmingly those with low ability, suggesting an aversion to learning that one is one of the worst performers. Given that people are uncertain even in the simple setting of our experiment, our evidence strongly suggests that uncertainty about ability is relevant in more complex, real-world search settings, including search for a job or search for a mate. Focusing on the case of job search, we discuss how our findings can provide a new explanation for various important stylized facts from field evidence.
Tournaments provide incentives through the prize spread. Agents are predicted to work harder for higher prize spreads, and thus principals are predicted to maximize the spread. This paper shows experimentally how changing institutional environments affect the way that principals structure tournament incentives, and the degree of wage compression. While in some settings tournaments provide powerful incentives, and principals maximize the prize spread, two specific factors – sabotage opportunities, and loss aversion among agents – are shown to undermine the power of tournaments and cause principals to choose wage compression.
The ability to process new information and to compute conditional probabilities is crucial for making appropriate decisions under uncertainty. In this paper, we investigate the capability of inferring conditional probabilities in a representative sample of the German population. Our results show that only a small fraction of the population responds consistently with Bayes' rule. Instead, most individuals either neglect the base probability, or the arrival of new information, in their responses. The probability to give normatively correct answers decreases with the level of education.
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.