NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Negative Trade-off Between Risk and Incentives: Evidence from the American Whaling Industry

Eric Hilt

NBER Working Paper No. 11960
Issued in January 2006
NBER Program(s):   DAE

This paper analyzes the trade-off between risk and incentives in the share contracts of the American whaling industry. Using a newly-collected panel of 5,378 individuals who sailed on whaling voyages from 1855-68, the response of sailors' compensation to an increase in risk is estimated. The risks used to identify this response resulted from the commerce-raiding naval vessels of the Confederacy during the Civil War. As the Confederate cruisers sailed primarily in the Atlantic, and therefore posed far less of a threat to whaling voyages to other oceans, a quasi-experimental approach, focussing on the differences between Atlantic voyages compared to others, is implemented. The results support the existence of a negative trade-off between risk and incentives in the industry's contracts. Moreover, evidence is found of selection among less risk-averse sailors and merchants into riskier voyages during the war.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11960

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