DP11751 Killer Incentives: Status Competition and Pilot Performance during World War II

Author(s): Philipp Ager, Leonardo Bursztyn, Hans-Joachim Voth
Publication Date: January 2017
Date Revised: July 2021
Keyword(s): Behavioral economics, Employee motivation, Nonfinancial incentives, Status competition, World War II
JEL(s): J24, J32, M52, N44
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11751

Using newly-collected data on death rates and aerial victories of more than 5,000 German fighter pilots during World War II, we examine the effects of public recognition on performance and risk-taking. When a particular pilot is honored publicly, both the victory rate and the death rate of his former peers increase. Fellow pilots react more if they come from the same region of Germany, or if they worked closely with him. Our results suggest that personal rivalry can be a prime motivating force, and that non-financial rewards can lead to a crowd-in of both effort and risk-taking via social connections.