Independent Directors and the Propensity to Pay Dividends

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Using data from 944 public companies in 2006, I examine how a firm''s propensity to pay dividends is related to (i) board independence and (ii) independent directors'' tenure, number of board seats (busy) and equity incentive compensation. After controlling for the effects of traditional economic, CEO entrenchment and ownership determinants of the propensity to pay dividends, I find evidence of a positive association between the propensity to pay and (i) board independence and (ii) director tenure, and a negative association between the propensity to pay and (i) busy directors and (ii) greater equity incentive compensation in the director pay structure. I find consistent results when the decision is to pay cash dividends or repurchase shares. In further tests, I find that equity incentive compensation in the independent director pay structure is the most pervasive determinant across other dividend measures such as dividend payout, total payout and repurchases. Overall, the findings suggest that the characteristics of independent directors are important determinants of the payout policy. The results also suggest that future corporate governance research could benefit from incorporating characteristics of independent directors rather than limiting governance measures to board independence especially when recent empirical evidence (Linck et al., 2008, 2009) shows convergence, and therefore, narrowing variation in the proportion of outsiders and insiders on a board.