Killer Incentives: Rivalry, Performance and Risk-Taking among German Fighter Pilots, 1939-45

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.

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