The Motivational Cost of Inequality: Pay Gaps Reduce the Willingness to Pursue Rewards

25 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2019

See all articles by Filip Gesiarz

Filip Gesiarz

University College London - Department of Experimental Psychology, Affective Brain Lab

Jan‐Emmanuel De Neve

University of Oxford

Tali Sharot

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology

Date Written: November 10, 2019

Abstract

Factors beyond a person’s control, such as demographic characteristics at birth, often influence the availability of rewards an individual can expect for their efforts. We know surprisingly little how such pay-gaps due to random differences in opportunities impact human motivation. To test this we designed a study in which we arbitrarily varied the reward offered to each participant in a group for performing the same task. Participants then had to decide whether or not they were willing to exert effort to receive their reward. Unfairness reduced participants’ motivation to pursue rewards even when their relative position in the distribution was high, despite the decision being of no benefit to others and reducing reward for oneself. This relationship was partially mediated by participants’ feelings. In particular, large disparity was associated with greater unhappiness, which was associated with lower willingness to work – even when controlling for absolute reward and its relative value, both of which also affected decisions to pursue rewards. Our findings suggest pay-gaps can trigger psychological dynamics that hurt productivity and well-being of all involved.

Keywords: Inequality, Pay-Gaps, Motivation, Effort, Opportunity, Affect, Reward

Suggested Citation

Gesiarz, Filip and De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel and Sharot, Tali, The Motivational Cost of Inequality: Pay Gaps Reduce the Willingness to Pursue Rewards (November 10, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3484543 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3484543

Filip Gesiarz (Contact Author)

University College London - Department of Experimental Psychology, Affective Brain Lab ( email )

United Kingdom

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Tali Sharot

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology ( email )

London
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://affectivebrain.com

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