We study workplace peer effects by randomly varying work assignments at a tea estate in Malawi. We find that increasing mean peer ability by 10 percent raises productivity by 0.3 percent. This effect is driven by the responses of women. Neither production nor compensation externalities cause the effect because workers receive piece rates and do not work in teams. Additional analyses provide no support for learning or socialization as mechanisms. Instead, peer effects appear to operate through “motivation”—given the choice to be reassigned, most workers prefer working near high-ability coworkers because these peers motivate them to work harder.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Lasse Brune is a research assistant professor at Northwestern University. Eric Chyn is an assistant professor of economics at Dartmouth College and a faculty research fellow at NBER (eric.t.chyn @dartmouth.edu). Jason Kerwin is an assistant professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota and an affiliated professor at J-PAL. The authors are grateful for feedback from Martha Bailey, Charlie Brown, John DiNardo, Brian Jacob, and Jeff Smith, as well as Emily Breza, Esther Duflo, Dean Karlan, Supreet Kaur, Dan Keniston, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, Sangyoon Park, Joseph Ritter, Bryan Stuart, Tavneet Suri, Chris Udry, and three anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions, along with seminar participants at the University of Michigan, the Minnesota Population Center, the University of Minnesota, Yale University, ABCA, CSAE, IUSSP, MIEDC, NEUDC, and SOLE. Data collection for this project was supported by grants from the Michigan Institute for Teaching and Research in Economics (MITRE), the Population Studies Center, the Center for Education of Women, the Rackham Graduate
School at the University of Michigan, and a CIFAP Faculty Seed Grant and a Grant-in-Aid from the University of Minnesota. Chyn acknowledges support from a NICHD training grant to the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan (T32 HD0077339). Chyn and Kerwin are grateful for the use of services and facilities at the Population Studies Center, which is funded by a NICHD Center Grant (R24 HD041028). The authors declare that they have no relevant or material financial interests related to the research described in this paper. All errors and omissions are those of the authors. The authors registered this study at the AEA RCT Registry as AEARCTR-0001105. The data used in this article are available in the Harvard Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/CAXO8Y.
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