Small Business Economics

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 379-399

First online:

Productivity, wages and intrinsic motivations

  • Leonardo BecchettiAffiliated withDepartment of Economics Law and Institutions, University of Rome II, Tor Vergata Email author 
  • , Stefano CastriotaAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, University of Perugia
  • , Ermanno C. TortiaAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, University of Trento

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There is a long-standing debate in labour economics on the impact of workers’ intrinsic motivations on equilibrium wages. One direction in economic theory suggests that intrinsically motivated workers are willing to accept lower wages and “donate” work, for example, in terms of unpaid overtime (the donative-labour hypothesis). In the other direction, intrinsic motivations are expected to increase worker productivity and, in turn, wages (the intrinsic motivation-productivity hypothesis). Using a new database of a sample of workers in the cooperative non-profit sector, we find that, consistently with the motivation-productivity hypothesis, more motivated workers earn significantly higher wages, which signals higher productivity. Evidence supporting the donative-labour hypothesis is weaker, even though a generally positive connection between motivations and work-donation is confirmed. We interpret these findings by arguing that the impact of the donative-labour effect is dominated by the intrinsic motivation-productivity effect.


Labor-donation Intrinsic motivations Productivity Wages Wage differentials Non-profit

JEL Classifications

J30 J31 I30 L26