Limited Attention and Income Distribution
AbstractEconomists 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 income and productivity produces a discontinuity in the relation between human capital and earnings which is certain cases can lead to a poverty trap, even in the absence of any market failures.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Harvard University Department of Economics in its series Scholarly Articles with number 2907518.
Date of creation: 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in American Economic Review
Other versions of this item:
- D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
- D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
- I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
- J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Dasgupta, Partha, 1997. "Nutritional status, the capacity for work, and poverty traps," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 5-37, March.
- Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2008.
"What Is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?,"
Journal of Economic Perspectives,
American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 3-28, Spring.
- Banerjee, Abhijit & Duflo, Esther, 2007. "What is Middle Class about the Middle Classes Around the World?," CEPR Discussion Papers 6613, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
- Esther Duflo & Abhijit Banerjee, 2008. "What is Middle Class About the Middle Classes Around the World?," Working Papers id:1363, eSocialSciences.
- T. N. Srinivasan, 1994. "Destitution: A Discourse," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1842-1855, December.
- 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.
- Oswald, Andrew J. & Proto, Eugenio & Sgroi, Daniel, 2008.
"Happiness and Productivity,"
The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS)
882, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
- Oswald, Andrew J. & Proto, Eugenio & Sgroi, Daniel, 2009. "Happiness and Productivity," IZA Discussion Papers 4645, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
- Oswald, Andrew & Proto, Eugenio & Sgroi, Daniel, 2013. "Happiness and Productivity," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 107, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
- 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.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Reinhard Engels).
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.