Is There a Startup Wage Premium? Evidence from MIT Graduates

43 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2017 Last revised: 8 Mar 2018

Date Written: September 1, 2017


While startups are the center of extensive policy discussion given their outsized role in job creation, it is not clear whether they create high quality jobs relative to incumbent firms. This paper investigates the wage differential between venture capital-backed startups and established firms, given that the two firm types compete for talent. Using data on MIT graduates, I find that non-founder employees at VC-backed startups earn roughly 10% higher wages than their counterparts at established firms. To account for unobserved heterogeneity across workers, I exploit the fact that many MIT graduates receive multiple job offers. I find that wage differentials are statistically insignificant from zero when individual fixed effects are included. This implies that much of the startup wage premium in the cross-section can be attributed to selection, and that VC-backed startups pay competitive wages for talent. To unpack the selection mechanism, I show that individual preferences for risk as well as challenging work strongly predict entry into VC-backed startups.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, hiring, wage differentials, startups, early employees

JEL Classification: L26, J31, E24, M51

Suggested Citation

Kim, J. Daniel, Is There a Startup Wage Premium? Evidence from MIT Graduates (September 1, 2017). Research Policy, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

J. Daniel Kim (Contact Author)

The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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