PhD position: Behavioral law and economics project on crowding out sustainability motives

PhD position: Behavioral law and economics project on crowding out sustainability motives

Published Deadline Location
10 Jan 28 Feb Amsterdam

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We are looking for an enthusiastic researcher with a Master's degree in economics and/or law. Primary requirements are affinity with empirical research into the effects of the form of legal norms on intrinsic motivation of sustainability compliance. Th...

Job description

The projected PhD research focuses on firms' behavior and the phenomenon of crowding out in the context of the legal design of sustainability policies. Crowding out is a behavioral mechanism that leads well-intentioned firms to lose their intrinsic motivation to display desirable behavior, in this case the pursuit of sustainability goals. The crowding out mechanism can cause legal norms, deterrence, and regulatory supervision to have the opposite effect of that which is desired: interventions and incentives can lead to less instead of more compliance. This has a bearing on effective policy design.

The main research questions are:
  • As to the legal subjects concerned: Are different groups of firms susceptible to the crowding out effect to different degrees, and what characteristics of these firms determine this susceptibility?
  • On the legal instruments applied: Is the way in which the legal norms and incentives that are applied to the firms concerned are framed (in shorthand: closed rules or open standards) relevant, and does this differ between groups?
  • Regarding the resultant policy design: If different groups of firms are susceptible to different legal incentives, is an effective policy mix taking account of crowding out possible, and what could this look like in a concrete example?
These questions will be addressed from a behavioural law and economics perspective. The focus of the research will not be on economic incentives per se. Rather it will look at the effect of legal norms and sanctions, and how they can be structured in order to achieve compliant behavior. This will be done whilst taking account of motivational and prosperity heterogeneity. Price functions as a signal, raising the question as to what may be the signalling functions of legal instruments such as rules, standards, and different types of civil and criminal sanctions or rewards. Where explicit pricing mechanisms are introduced, intrinsic motivation may be crowded out. At the same time, legal sanctions can act as economic (dis-)incentives. The methodology is that of experimental empirical research (lab experiments and vignette studies), supplemented by qualitative inputs (such as interviews). The intended factual context is that of the policies and initiatives regarding climate change and sustainability.

Your duties
  • Carrying out scientific research under supervision for a period of four years, culminating in a PhD degree in law and/or economics (according to your preference)
  • Independent data collection, under supervision
  • Analysing quantitative and (to a lesser extent) qualitative data
  • Writing scientific publications towards a PhD thesis
  • Presenting research findings for a scientific as well as a general audience
  • Teaching (to a maximum of 10% of your hours).


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)


  • A completed relevant Master's degree in the economics and/or law
  • A verifiable interest in research, and affinity with the topic and methods of the PhD project
  • Good academic English language skills (speaking and writing) are needed, (passive) knowledge of Dutch is a plus
  • Verifiable skills in quantitative data-analysis and statistical software (such as SPSS; R)
  • Experience with research and prior own publications are a plus.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 1 year.

A challenging position at a socially involved organisation. The salary starts at €2,395 (PhD-scale) in the first year and increases to €3,061 (PhD-scale) gross per month in the fourth year for a full-time appointment.

The job contract is offered initially for one year and prolonged to in total four years based on an assessment of performance and perspectives. The job contract ends after four years with the defence of the PhD thesis. Depending on the prior training of the successful PhD candidate, the PhD degree will be awarded either by the Faculty of Law and/or by the School of Business and Economics.
  • Function area: PhD
  • Level of training: University - MA/MSc/LLM
  • VU-employment unit: Faculty of Law (RCH)
  • Contract type: Temporary
  • Minimum FTE: 0,8
  • Minimum salary scale: €2,395 (PhD)
  • Maximum salary scale: €3,061 (PhD)
The VU also has an attractive package of secondary job conditions and arrangements that enable a positive combination of work and private life such as:
  • 8% vacation pay and 8,3% end-of-year allowance
  • A contribution to travel costs between your place of residence and place of work
  • Elective fiscal facilities related to your employment conditions.


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor - from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam's Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

Faculty of Law
The Faculty of Law provides bachelor's degree programmes in three main fields: Law, Notarial law and Criminology. In addition, we offer an extensive range of Master's programmes as well as contract education. Our teaching and research focus on the social function and relevance of law: from contracts in the platform economy to the new way of working, from colonial injustice to medical liability, from family reunification to civil participation, from sex offenses to ransomware. Our research is often both international and multidisciplinary in character.

Working at the Faculty of Law means being engaged in an active and inspiring academic setting. Together with your colleagues, you will contribute to the quality of teaching and research in a challenging and rewarding working environment. More than 300 people work at the Faculty of Law, which is home to some 3,000 students.

The research context
Conceptually and in an organisational sense, the research builds on collaboration by Arjen van Witteloostuijn (SBE) and Wolf Sauter (RCH) into fairness bias in the context of the Amsterdam Behavioral Economics and Law Lab (ABEL). This includes a recently started parallel PhD project on the question Why do firms comply? The current PhD project on crowding out sustainability motives will likewise be supervised by these two professors.

The PhD candidate will work within the Faculty of Law, but with close contacts with fellow researchers in the School of Business and Economics and the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). The funding for this position includes funds intended for the empirical research that will be at its basis.


  • PhD
  • Economics
  • max. 32 hours per week
  • €2434—€3111 per month
  • Doctorate
  • 9930


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)

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De Boelelaan 1105, 1081HV, Amsterdam

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