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The Evolutionary Basis of Time Preference: Intergenerational Transfers and Sex


  • Arthur J. Robson
  • Balazs Szentes
  • Emil Iantchev


We consider the evolutionary basis of time discounting with intergenerational transfers. We show that the notion of "reproductive value" from biology provides the utility criterion for a parent to optimize the allocation of resources between transfers to offspring and to promote her own survival. This optimization has a natural dynamic programming formulation. We show that younger individuals may well be "too impatient," but older individuals "too patient" in accordance with observations. We compare the allocation of resources under sexual reproduction to that where there is asexual reproduction. Sex distorts time discounting; under plausible conditions, sex increases patience. (JEL A12, D91)

Suggested Citation

  • Arthur J. Robson & Balazs Szentes & Emil Iantchev, 2012. "The Evolutionary Basis of Time Preference: Intergenerational Transfers and Sex," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 172-201, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejmic:v:4:y:2012:i:4:p:172-201
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/mic.4.4.172

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    Cited by:

    1. Luis Rayo & Arthur Robson, 2013. "Biology and the Arguments of Utility," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1893, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    2. Terence C. Burnham, 2016. "Economics and evolutionary mismatch: humans in novel settings do not maximize," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 195-209, October.
    3. repec:kap:jbioec:v:20:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s10818-017-9261-z is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Arthur J. Robson & Bal√°zs Szentes, 2014. "A Biological Theory of Social Discounting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(11), pages 3481-3497, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making


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