Superstars and Mediocrities: Market Failure in the Discovery of Talent

29 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2004 Last revised: 22 Feb 2009

Date Written: June 29, 2006


The basic problem facing most labor markets is that workers can neither commit to long-term wage contracts nor can they self finance the costs of production. I study the effects of these imperfections when talent is industry-specific, it can only be revealed on the job, and once learned becomes public information. I show that firms bid excessively for the pool of incumbent workers at the expense of trying out new talent. The workforce is then plagued with an unfavorable selection of individuals: there are too many mediocre workers, whose talent is not high enough to justify them crowding out novice workers with lower expected talent but with more upside potential. The result is an inefficiently low level of output but higher wages for known high talents. This problem is most severe where information about talent is initially very imprecise and the complementary costs of production are high. I argue that high incomes in professions such as entertainment, management, and entrepreneurship, may be explained by the nature of the talent revelation process, rather than by an underlying scarcity of talent.

Note: Previously titled "Mediocrity in Talent Markets".

Keywords: experimentation, turnover, talent, mediocrity, training, wage inequality

JEL Classification: D3, J3, J6, M5

Suggested Citation

Terviö, Marko, Superstars and Mediocrities: Market Failure in the Discovery of Talent (June 29, 2006). Review of Economic Studies, Vol. 76, No. 2, 2009, Available at SSRN: or

Marko Terviö (Contact Author)

Aalto University ( email )

P.O. Box 21240
Helsinki, 00101