NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Peter Principle: Promotions and Declining Productivity

Edward P. Lazear

NBER Working Paper No. 8094
Issued in January 2001
NBER Program(s):   LS   PR

Many have observed that individuals perform worse after having received a promotion. The most famous statement of the idea is the Peter Principle, which states that people are promoted to their level of incompetence. There are a number of possible explanations. Two are explored. The most traditional is that the prospect of promotion provides incentives which vanish after the promotion has been granted; thus, tenured faculty slack off. Another is that output as a statistical matter is expected to fall. Being promoted is evidence that a standard has been met. Regression to the mean implies that future productivity will decline on average. Firms optimally account for the regression bias in making promotion decisions, but the effect is never eliminated. Both explanations are analyzed. The statistical point always holds; the slacking off story holds only under certain compensation structures.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8094

Published: Edward P. Lazear, 2004. "The Peter Principle: A Theory of Decline," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S141-S163, February.

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