Skip to main content

backward-sloping supply curve for labour

backward-sloping supply curve for labour The preference for increased leisure over increased remuneration. Thus, when wage incentives are offered to improve productivity, labourers respond by working shorter hours to earn the same money rather than harder or longer to earn more money.

Max Weber discussed this phenomenon in General Economic History (1923), citing it as an example of ‘economic traditionalism’, and arguing that ‘at the beginning of all ethics and the economic relations which result, is traditionalism, the sanctity of tradition, the exclusive reliance upon such trade and industry as have come down from the fathers. This traditionalism survives far down into the present; only a human lifetime in the past it was futile to double the wages of an agricultural labourer in Silesia who mowed a tract of land on a contract, in the hope of inducing him to increase his exertions. He would simply have reduced by half the work expended because with this half he would have been able to earn … as much as before’.

Early European colonial entrepreneurs were dismayed when native workers appeared unresponsive to wage incentives. This behaviour was widely interpreted as evidence of innate laziness, to be remedied by keeping wage rates down, so preventing idleness and forcing the worker into virtue. Sociological research in developing countries has established that a variety of alternative explanations can be offered for the phenomenon. For example, it may be a consequence of perceived opportunities for saving, investment, and social mobility; the nature of familial obligations regarding the distribution of rewards; or resentment against new patterns of authority. In other words, the context provided by local social and political institutions needs to be considered, since this can serve to make the backward-sloping supply curve as consistent with the maximization of individual welfare as is a positively sloped curve in other contexts (see M. P. Miracle , ‘Interpretation of Backward-Sloping Labour Supply Curves in Africa’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 1976
). See also ECONOMIC MAN.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"backward-sloping supply curve for labour." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 23 Mar. 2019 <>.

"backward-sloping supply curve for labour." A Dictionary of Sociology. . (March 23, 2019).

"backward-sloping supply curve for labour." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved March 23, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.