Why are most translators underpaid? A descriptive explanation using asymmetric information and a suggested solution from signaling theory

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)


It is a common observation that most professional translators are not paid well. Most attribute this to the low perceived status of translators and their work. Because of the low pay, many good translators have left the profession for other jobs. This line of thought sounds reasonable but it is also highly evaluative which makes empirical testing impossible. This paper offers an alternative explanation which is descriptive in nature and draws heavily from the theories of information economics. This discussion is in line with the paradigm of descriptive translation studies which emphasizes explanation and prediction. However, in addition to this, Chesterman (1993) points out that translation studies should also cater to evaluation, and I believe that my analysis might offer some insights for improving the situation of professional translators. Section 1 starts by giving a brief discussion of two important concepts in information economics: asymmetric information and signaling. Section 2 then illustrates how asymmetric information can be used to explain the low pay which we observe in the translators' market. This section also analyzes why this problem of asymmetric information may lead to an outflow of "good" translators. In Section 3, I suggest how effective signals, such as a valid and reliable certification system, can be used to solve the problem of asymmetric information in the translators' market and hence improve the pay of capable professional translators.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslation Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


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