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Why Do Defaults Affect Behavior? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan

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  • Joshua Blumenstock
  • Michael Callen
  • Tarek Ghani

Abstract

We report on an experiment examining why default options impact behavior. By randomly assigning employees to different varieties of a salary-linked savings account, we find that default enrollment increases participation by 40 percentage points—an effect equivalent to providing a 50% matching incentive. We then use a series of experimental interventions to differentiate between explanations for the default effect, which we conclude is driven largely by present-biased preferences and the cognitive cost of thinking through different savings scenarios. Default assignment also changes employees' attitudes toward saving, and makes them more likely to actively decide to save after the study concludes.

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  • Joshua Blumenstock & Michael Callen & Tarek Ghani, 2018. "Why Do Defaults Affect Behavior? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 108(10), pages 2868-2901, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:108:y:2018:i:10:p:2868-2901
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20171676
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    Cited by:

    1. Asen Ivanov, 2019. "Optimal Pension Plan Default Policies when Employees are Biased," Working Papers 893, Queen Mary University of London, School of Economics and Finance.
    2. Goldin, Jacob & Reck, Daniel, 2020. "Optimal defaults with normative ambiguity," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 105863, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. Catia Batista & Pedro C. Vicente, 2021. "Is Mobile Money Changing Rural Africa? Evidence from a Field Experiment," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 2116, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
    4. Niu, Xiaofei & Li, Jianbiao, 2020. "Incentivizing organ donation by swearing an oath: The role of signature and ritual," EconStor Preprints 203243, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics.
    5. Goldin, Jacob & Homonoff, Tatiana & Patterson, Richard & Skimmyhorn, William, 2020. "How much to save? Decision costs and retirement plan participation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 191(C).
    6. Batista, Catia & Vicente, Pedro C., 2020. "Improving access to savings through mobile money: Experimental evidence from African smallholder farmers," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 129(C).
    7. Shilpa Aggarwal & Valentina Brailovskaya & Jonathan Robinson, 2020. "Saving for Multiple Financial Needs: Evidence from Lockboxes and Mobile Money in Malawi," NBER Working Papers 27035, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Orazio Attanasio & Matthew Bird & Lina Cardona-Sosa & Pablo Lavado, 2019. "Freeing Financial Education via Tablets: Experimental Evidence from Colombia," NBER Working Papers 25929, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Jacob Goldin & Tatiana Homonoff & Richard W. Patterson & William L. Skimmyhorn, 2020. "How Much to Save? Decision Costs and Retirement Plan Participation," NBER Working Papers 27575, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & William L. Skimmyhorn, 2019. "Borrowing to Save? The Impact of Automatic Enrollment on Debt," NBER Working Papers 25876, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Eva Haaser & Melanie Koch, 2019. "Do Default Assignments Increase Savings of the Poor? Empirical Evidence," DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus 130, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    12. Atasoy, Ayse Tugba & Madlener, Reinhard, 2020. "Default vs. Active Choices: An Experiment on Electricity Tariff Switching," FCN Working Papers 7/2020, E.ON Energy Research Center, Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN).
    13. Casaburi, Lorenzo & Macchiavello, Rocco, 2015. "Firm and Market Response to Saving Constraints: Evidence from the Kenyan Dairy Industry," CEPR Discussion Papers 10952, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    14. Catia Batista & Pedro C. Vicente, 2018. "Is mobile money changing rural Africa? Evidence from a field experiment," NOVAFRICA Working Paper Series wp1805, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Economia, NOVAFRICA.
    15. Till Koebe, 2020. "Better coverage, better outcomes? Mapping mobile network data to official statistics using satellite imagery and radio propagation modelling," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 15(11), pages 1-28, November.
    16. Thunström, Linda & Gilbert, Ben & Ritten, Chian Jones, 2018. "Nudges that hurt those already hurting – distributional and unintended effects of salience nudges," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 267-282.
    17. Dawoon Jung & Tushar Bharati & Seungwoo Chin, 2020. "Does Education Affect Time Preference? Evidence from Indonesia," Economics Discussion / Working Papers 20-17, The University of Western Australia, Department of Economics.
    18. de Bresser, Jochem & Knoef, M.G., 2019. "Heterogeneous Default Effects on Retirement Saving : Sledgehammers or Precision Instruments," Other publications TiSEM c889dcee-39b2-4817-99fc-7, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    19. Zarek C. Brot-Goldberg & Timothy Layton & Boris Vabson & Adelina Yanyue Wang, 2021. "The Behavioral Foundations of Default Effects: Theory and Evidence from Medicare Part D," NBER Working Papers 28331, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Lipscomb, Molly & Schechter, Laura, 2018. "Subsidies versus mental accounting nudges: Harnessing mobile payment systems to improve sanitation," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 235-254.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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