Scoundrels or stars? Theory and evidence on the quality of workers in online labor markets

Anne M. Farrell, Jonathan H. Grenier, Justin Leiby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Online labor markets allow rapid recruitment of large numbers of workers for very low pay. Although online workers are often used as research participants, there is little evidence that they are motivated to make costly choices to forgo wealth or leisure that are often central to addressing accounting research questions. Thus, we investigate the validity of using online workers as a proxy for non-experts when accounting research designs use more demanding tasks than these workers typically complete. Three experiments examine the costly choices of online workers relative to student research participants. We find that online workers are at least as willing as students to make costly choices, even at significantly lower wages. We also find that online workers are sensitive to performance-based wages, which are just as effective in inducing high effort as high fixed wages. We discuss implications of our results for conducting accounting research with online workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-114
Number of pages22
JournalAccounting Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017


  • Effort
  • Honesty
  • Mechanical turk
  • Motivation
  • Online labor markets
  • Performance-based wages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics

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