Killer Incentives: Status Competition and Pilot Performance During World War Ii

49 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2017 Last revised: 29 Oct 2021

See all articles by Philipp Ager

Philipp Ager

University of Southern Denmark - Department of Business and Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Leonardo Bursztyn

University of Chicago - Department of Economics

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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Date Written: December 2016

Abstract

A growing theoretical and empirical literature shows that public recognition can lead employees to exert greater effort. However, status competition is also associated with excessive expenditure on status goods, greater likelihood of bankruptcy, and more risk taking by money managers. This paper examines the effects of recognition and status competition jointly. In particular, we focus on the spillover effects of public recognition on the performance and risk taking of peers. Using newly collected data on monthly “victory” scores of more than 5,000 German pilots during World War II, we find that status competition had important effects: After the German armed forces bulletin mentioned the accomplishments of a particular fighter pilot, his former peers performed considerably better. This outperformance varied across skill groups. When a former squadron peer was mentioned, the best pilots tried harder, scored more, and died no more frequently; in contrast, average pilots won only a few additional victories but died at a significantly higher rate. Hence our results show that the overall efficiency effect of nonfinancial rewards can be ambiguous in settings where both risk and output affect aggregate performance.

Suggested Citation

Ager, Philipp and Bursztyn, Leonardo and Voth, Hans-Joachim, Killer Incentives: Status Competition and Pilot Performance During World War Ii (December 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2892416

Philipp Ager (Contact Author)

University of Southern Denmark - Department of Business and Economics ( email )

DK-5230 Odense
Denmark

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

Leonardo Bursztyn

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 E. 59th St
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society ( email )

Raemistrasse 71
Zuerich, 8006
Switzerland

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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