Status Motivations: Consumer and Seeker Perspectives

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Vesco, Robert
Waguespack, David
Agarwal, Rajshree
My dissertation includes two essays which examine status motivations from different perspectives. In the first essay, I explore the motivations of actors who are seeking to increase their status. In particular, when the competitive signals become opaque, how do their behaviors change? In the second essay I look at status motivations from the perspective of the consumers. In other words, what motivates actors and audiences to reward status? Ultimately, my aim with this dissertation is to extend our understanding of status beyond whether it has an effect and into understanding what is driving those effects. I also seek to highlight the importance of heterogeneity in status motivations since populations of people are unlikely to have homogeneous reasons for pursuing status. The first essay examines how making the competitive environment opaque changes status-seekers productivity and prosocial behavior. While status competition is generally considered a positive force for increasing productivity, a growing body of research suggests it can have unintended consequences. However, the literature on status is largely divided on the motivations behind it. Management scholars tend to see status as an asset to be pursued as a means to an end while economists and psychologists focus on the ego needs associated with it. If these two groups of status-seekers react differently to changing incentives, and ex ante, we cannot identify these groups, then how can we interpret empirical results? To deal with this complexity I leverage an agent-based simulation that explores motive heterogeneity. I then exploit a natural experiment in an online community for technologists where status competition is decreased and then examine how low- versus high-status actors change their helpful behaviors and productivity. I find that productivity decreases with the less competitive (opaque) environment, but that only high-status actors decrease their helpful comments. I argue that the agent-based simulation suggests that this pattern of outcomes is likely due to the community having a heterogenous mixture of status-seekers since a homogenous community of either type of status-seeker would yield different results. The second essay turns around the motivation lens to the status-consumers rather than to the status-seekers. Why do they value status? This study examines taste-based status motives. That is, motives which are independent of quality considerations. Among this class of status audience, theory suggests that they may either be interested in status intrinsically or that they value status as a form of conspicuous consumption, but few large-scale empirical studies have addressed these different motivations. To address this challenge, I use a setting where audiences can reward high-status actors either anonymously or publicly. I find high-status actors receive a 60\% increase in deference versus their low-status counterparts. However, I find no difference between anonymous or public deference. Thus, while my findings replicate prior work on quality-based status motives, I find no evidence of taste-based status motives. One possibility for this could be that my setting does not contain sizable cohorts of people who have a taste for status. Another possibility could be that a different empirical approach is needed to tease these differing motivations apart from one another.