Asymmetric reference-dependent reciprocity, downward wage rigidity, and the employment contract

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We develop a model of asymmetric reciprocity and optimal wage setting based on contractual incompleteness, fairness, and reference dependence and loss aversion in the evaluation of wages by workers. The model establishes a positive wage-effort relationship capturing a worker's 'asymmetric reference-dependent reciprocity', in which loss aversion implies negative reciprocity is stronger than positive reciprocity. Our theory provides an explanation for the observed asymmetry and dynamics of workers' reciprocity and establishes a micro-foundation for downward wage rigidity, the implications of which shed new light on a forward-looking firm's optimal wage setting and hiring decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-429
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Economic Behaviour and Organization
Early online date24 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2019


  • reference dependence
  • loss aversion
  • asymmetric reciprocity
  • downward wage rigidity


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