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Limited Attention and Income Distribution

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  • Abhijit V. Banerjee
  • Sendhil Mullainathan

Abstract

Economists have long been interested in the idea that there is a direct circular relation between poverty and low productivity, and not just one that is mediated by market failures, usually in asset markets. The nutrition-based efficiency wage model (Partha Dasgupta and Debraj Ray, 1987) is the canonical example of models where this happens: However it has been variously suggested (see for example T. N. Srinivasan, 1994) that the link from nutrition to productivity and especially the link from productivity to nutrition is too weak to be any more than a small part of the story. Partha Dasgupta himself acknowledges this when he writes "nutrition-productivity construct provides a metaphor,..., for ... an economic environment harboring poverty traps" (Partha Dasgupta, 1997, page 5). We propose an alternative approach to this question based on the idea that attention is a scarce resource that is important for productivity. Specifically, people may not be able to fully attend to their jobs if they are also worrying about problems at home and being distracted in this way reduces productivity. But not paying attention at home is also costly: early symptoms of a child's sickness may go unnoticed; water may run out at the end of the day; kerosene for lighting lamps at home might run out and make it hard to do homework; etc. Finally, the extent to which home life distracts depends on the nature of home life. Specifically, certain goods (e.g. a good baby sitter, a 24-hour piped water supply, a connection to a power supply grid) can reduce the extent of home life distraction. These three assumptions generate an interesting relation between income and productivity that is at the core of our model. The non-poor in this model, by virtue of owning distraction-saving goods and services at home, are able to focus more on their work. Hence they will be more productive at work and will be able to afford more distraction-saving goods. This simple two-way relationship between in

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 98 (2008)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 489-93

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:98:y:2008:i:2:p:489-93

Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.98.2.489
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  1. T. N. Srinivasan, 1994. "Destitution: A Discourse," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1842-1855, December.
  2. Esther Duflo & Abhijit Banerjee, 2008. "What is Middle Class About the Middle Classes Around the World?," Working Papers id:1363, eSocialSciences.
  3. Dasgupta, Partha, 1997. "Nutritional status, the capacity for work, and poverty traps," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 5-37, March.
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Cited by:
  1. Oswald, Andrew & Proto, Eugenio & Sgroi, Daniel, 2013. "Happiness and Productivity," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 108, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  2. Lange, Siri & Mwisongo, Aziza & M├Žstad, Ottar, 2014. "Why don't clinicians adhere more consistently to guidelines for the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI)?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 56-63.
  3. Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo & Rachel Glennerster, 2011. "Is Decentralized Iron Fortification a Feasible Option to Fight Anemia Among the Poorest?," NBER Chapters, in: Explorations in the Economics of Aging, pages 317-344 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Omer Moav and & Zvika Neeman, 2012. "Saving Rates and Poverty: The Role of Conspicuous Consumption and Human Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(563), pages 933-956, 09.
  5. Beaman, Lori & Magruder, Jeremy & Robinson, Jonathan, 2014. "Minding small change among small firms in Kenya," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 69-86.

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