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Executive Compensation: A Survey of Theory and Evidence

173 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2017 Last revised: 3 Aug 2017

Alex Edmans

London Business School - Institute of Finance and Accounting; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Xavier Gabaix

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); New York University - Stern School of Business

Dirk Jenter

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Finance; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Multiple version iconThere are 4 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 17, 2017

Abstract

This paper reviews the theoretical and empirical literature on executive compensation. We start by presenting data on the level of CEO and other top executive pay over time and across firms, the changing composition of pay; and the strength of executive incentives. We compare pay in U.S. public firms to private and non-U.S. firms. We then critically analyze three non-exclusive explanations for what drives executive pay -- shareholder value maximization by boards, rent extraction by executives, and institutional factors such as regulation, taxation, and accounting policy. We confront each hypothesis with the evidence. While shareholder value maximization is consistent with many practices that initially seem inefficient, no single explanation can account for all facts and historical trends; we highlight major gaps for future research. We discuss evidence on the effects of executive pay, highlighting recent identification strategies, and suggest policy implications grounded in theoretical and empirical research. Our survey has two main goals. First, we aim to tightly link the theoretical literature to the empirical evidence, and combine the insights contributed by all three views on the drivers of pay. Second, we aim to provide a user-friendly guide to executive compensation, presenting shareholder value theories using a simple unifying model, and discussing the challenges and methodological issues with empirical research.

Keywords: Executive compensation, contracts, principal-agent problem, rent extraction

JEL Classification: D31, D86, G34, M12

Suggested Citation

Edmans, Alex and Gabaix, Xavier and Jenter, Dirk, Executive Compensation: A Survey of Theory and Evidence (July 17, 2017). European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) - Finance Working Paper No. 514/2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2992287

Alex Edmans (Contact Author)

London Business School - Institute of Finance and Accounting ( email )

Sussex Place
Regent's Park
London NW1 4SA
United Kingdom

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

Xavier Gabaix

New York University - Stern School of Business ( email )

Stern School of Business
44 West 4th Street, Suite 9-190
New York, NY 10012-1126
United States

HOME PAGE: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~xgabaix/

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

Dirk Jenter

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Finance ( email )

United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://personal.lse.ac.uk/jenter/

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

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