When It Comes to Awards

A friend of mine received three prestigious academic awards in the same year.  I asked him, “Wouldn’t you have been happier getting them in separate years? After all, the marginal utility of an award probably is decreasing within a particular period of time. So wouldn’t getting these awards in separate years have increased your lifetime utility?” 

He said that my observation was probably correct.  However, he was so surprised to receive even one of them, and the increase in his happiness was so great, that he just wasn’t able to think in this narrow economic way. I guess there are occasions (probably very few!) where even simple economics isn’t 100 percent relevant.

Jean-Claude Schmit

Just wondering if there is not a positive reinforcement effect here: having gotten one prestigious award puts much more visibility on the academic person and makes it more likely that he/she will be considered for another award. As an example, often Nobel prize winners have received other prestigious awards in the previous months. But that's only my impression, I do not know if there is a quantitative study on this.


I believe you're overthinking the economics in your example. The reason (generally) someone gets a Nobel prize is they've done something astoundingly impressive. Let's assume academic awards are spread out somewhat evenly over the course of a year. That would mean the odds are very high that they are going to be recognized by some other awards before it's even time for them to possibly receive a Nobel.

Paul (seekingleopard.com)

I would argue that receiving a prestigious award isn't granting utility to the recipient in happiness. The utility comes from the additional earnings that come of the recognition as the top performer in your field. A Pulitzer prize winning journalist commands greater fees than a similar non-Pulitzer winning journalist. So the argument would be that every year you don't have an award, you are losing out on potential income that award would generate.

To Jean-Claude: I anecdotally experienced that effect. I was given an award for having won another award. People are funny like that.

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Why wouldn't it grant utility in happiness? It might also grant utility in money (depending on your job situation), but I think that an award would also provide utility in happiness.