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Paying Not to Go to the Gym

  • Stefano DellaVigna
  • Ulrike Malmendier

How do consumers choose from a menu of contracts? We analyze a novel dataset from three U.S. health clubs with information on both the contractual choice and the day-to-day attendance decisions of 7,752 members over three years. The observed consumer behavior is difficult to reconcile with standard preferences and beliefs. First, members who choose a contract with a flat monthly fee of over $70 attend on average 4.3 times per month. They pay a price per expected visit of more than $17, even though they could pay $10 per visit using a 10-visit pass. On average, these users forgo savings of $600 during their membership. Second, consumers who choose a monthly contract are 17 percent more likely to stay enrolled beyond one year than users committing for a year. This is surprising because monthly members pay higher fees for the option to cancel each month. We also document cancellation delays and attendance expectations, among other findings. Leading explanations for our findings are overconfidence about future self-control or about future efficiency. Overconfident agents overestimate attendance as well as the cancellation probability of automatically renewed contracts. Our results suggest that making inferences from observed contract choice under the rational expectation hypothesis can lead to biases in the estimation of consumer preferences. (JEL D00, D12, D91)

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

Volume (Year): 96 (2006)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 694-719

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:96:y:2006:i:3:p:694-719
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.96.3.694
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  1. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
  2. George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Projection Bias In Predicting Future Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1209-1248, November.
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  8. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  9. Paul Heidhues & Botond Köszegi, 2004. "The Impact of Consumer Loss Aversion on Pricing," CIG Working Papers SP II 2004-17, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG).
  10. M. Daniele Paserman, 2004. "Job Search and Hyperbolic Discounting: Structural Estimation and Policy Evaluation," 2004 Meeting Papers 99, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. Brigitte C. Madrian & Dennis F. Shea, 2000. "The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401(k) Participation and Savings Behavior," NBER Working Papers 7682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  15. Malmendier, Ulrike M. & Della Vigna, Stefano, 2003. "Contract Design and Self Control: Theory and Evidence," Research Papers 1801, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  16. Drazen Prelec & George Loewenstein, 1998. "The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debt," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(1), pages 4-28.
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