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Choice or No Choice: What explains the Attractiveness of Default Options?

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Author Info

  • Maarten van Rooij
  • Federica Teppa

Abstract

The default option in individual decision making has proved to be a major attractor in a large number of situations, but we still have little information on the reasons why decision makers so often stick to the default choice. We have devised a new module for the Dutch DNB Household Survey to learn about default behavior and to discriminate between potential explanations. The main contributions of this paper are as follows. First, we identify potential explanations for default choices (including procrastination, inertia, illiteracy, obedience and regret aversion). Second, we provide empirical evidence on their relative importance in a large number of situations. Third, our survey data allow us to analyze the entire population distribution instead of selected groups (like workers, or students) and to control for a rich set of personal characteristics, as well as for labor market status, income, and wealth. Our findings confirm that the default choice plays a key role in individual decision making. Inaddition, we show that its relevance differs across domains: the default option attracts the majority of preferences in situations where the marginal disutility associated with postponing the decision is relatively low, or where the choice problem is increasingly complex. Moreover, we find that even though choice behavior is principally driven by different reasons across different situations overall procrastination and financial illiteracy provide the mostpowerful explanations for why people stick to the default.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department in its series DNB Working Papers with number 165.

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Date of creation: Jan 2008
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Handle: RePEc:dnb:dnbwpp:165

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Related research

Keywords: default options; individual preferences; individual decision making; behavioral economics; procrastination; financial literacy;

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References

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  1. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2009. "The Importance of Default Options for Retirement Saving Outcomes: Evidence from the United States," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 167-195 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
  3. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 1996. "Doing It Now or Later," Discussion Papers 1172, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  4. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2001. "For Better or For Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," NBER Working Papers 8651, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Maarten vanRooij & Annamaria Lusardi & Rob Alessie, 2007. "Financial Literacy and Stock Market Participation," Working Papers wp162, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  6. Maarten van Rooij & Clemens Kool & Henriļæ½tte Prast, 2005. "Risk-return preferences in the pension domain: are people able to choose?," DNB Working Papers 025, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
  7. Abadie, Alberto & Gay, Sebastien, 2004. "The Impact of Presumed Consent Legislation on Cadaveric Organ Donation: A Cross Country Study," Working Paper Series rwp04-024, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  8. Alessie, Rob & Hochguertel, Stefan & van Soest, Arthur, 2006. "Non-take-up of tax-favored savings plans: Evidence from Dutch employees," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 483-501, August.
  9. Kapteyn, A. & Teppa, F., 2002. "Subjective Measures of Risk Aversion and Portfolio Choice," Discussion Paper 2002-11, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  10. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2001. "THE POWER OF SUGGESTION: INERTIA IN 401(k) PARTICIPATION AND SAVINGS BEHAVIOR," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1149-1187, November.
  11. Ted O' Donoghue and Matthew Rabin., 2000. "Choice and Procrastination," Economics Working Papers E00-281, University of California at Berkeley.
  12. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  13. Akerlof, George A, 1991. "Procrastination and Obedience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 1-19, May.
  14. David A. Wise, 2004. "Perspectives on the Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise04-1, October.
  15. Henrik Cronqvist & Richard H. Thaler, 2004. "Design Choices in Privatized Social-Security Systems: Learning from the Swedish Experience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 424-428, May.
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