April 24, 2018
“Killer Incentives: Relative Position, Performance and Risk-Taking Among German Fighter Pilots, 1939-45”
How far are people willing to go to improve their relative standing? We examine the effects of public recognition on the performance and risk-taking among fighter pilots, using newly-collected data on death rates and victory claims of more than 5,000 German pilots during World War II. When a particular fighter pilot received public recognition, both the victory rate and the death rate of his former peers increased. The strength of this spillover depends on the intensity of prior interactions and social distance. Our results suggest that an intrinsic concern about relative standing, beyond instrumental consequences associated with public recognition, was a prime motivating force.