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Economic Decision-Making in Poverty Depletes Behavioral Control

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  • Spears Dean

    () (Princeton University)

Abstract

Economic theory and conventional wisdom suggest that time preference can cause or perpetuate poverty. Might poverty also or instead cause impatient or impulsive behavior? This paper reports a randomized lab experiment and a partially randomized field experiment, both in India, and analysis of the American Time Use Survey. In all three studies, poverty is associated with diminished behavioral control. The primary contribution of this empirical paper is to isolate the direction of causality from poverty to behavior. Three similar possible theoretical mechanisms, found in the psychology and behavioral economics literatures, cannot be definitively separated. One supported theoretical explanation is that poverty, by making economic decision-making more difficult, depletes cognitive control.

Suggested Citation

  • Spears Dean, 2011. "Economic Decision-Making in Poverty Depletes Behavioral Control," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(1), pages 1-44, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:bejeap:v:11:y:2011:i:1:n:72
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Hoel, Jessica B. & Schwab, Benjamin & Hoddinott, John, 2016. "Self-control exertion and the expression of time preference: Experimental results from Ethiopia," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 136-146.
    2. repec:eee:deveco:v:127:y:2017:i:c:p:187-208 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. White, Justin S. & Basu, Sanjay, 2016. "Does the benefits schedule of cash assistance programs affect the purchase of temptation goods? Evidence from Peru," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 70-89.
    4. Carolina Laureti & Ariane Szafarz, 2012. "The Time-Inconsistency Factor: How Banks Adapt to their Mix of Savers," Working Papers CEB 12-035, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    5. Jorge Cuartas & Arturo Harker & Andrés Moya, 2016. "Parenting, Scarcity and Violence: Theory and Evidence for Colombia," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 015287, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
    6. Carvalho, Leandro S. & Prina, Silvia & Sydnor, Justin, 2016. "The effect of saving on risk attitudes and intertemporal choices," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 41-52.
    7. Uri Gneezy & Alex Imas, 2016. "Lab in the Field: Measuring Preferences in the Wild," CESifo Working Paper Series 5953, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Dean Spears, 2013. "Poverty and probability: aspiration and aversion to compound lotteries in El Salvador and India," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 16(3), pages 263-284, September.
    9. Pier-André Bouchard St-Amant & Jean-Denis Garon, 2015. "Optimal redistributive pensions and the cost of self-control," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 22(5), pages 723-740, October.
    10. Susan E. Mayer & Ariel Kalil & Philip Oreopoulos & Sebastian Gallegos, 2015. "Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement: The Parents and Children Together (PACT) Intervention," NBER Working Papers 21602, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Hanna Fromell & Daniele Nosenzo & Trudy Owens, 2014. "Tradeoffs between Self-interest and Other-Regarding Preferences Cause Willpower Depletion," Discussion Papers 2014-14, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    12. Khera, Reetika, 2014. "Cash vs. in-kind transfers: Indian data meets theory," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 116-128.
    13. Andrés Moya & Michael Carter, 2014. "Violence and the Formation of Hopelessness and Pessimistic Prospects of Upward Mobility in Colombia," NBER Working Papers 20463, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Carolina Laureti & Ariane Szafarz, 2014. "Having it Both Ways: A Theory of the Banking Firm with Time-Consistent and Time-Inconsistent Depositors," Working Papers CEB 14-011, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    15. Lea Rekow, 2016. "On Unstable Ground: Issues Involved in Greening Space in the Rocinha Favela of Rio De Janeiro," Journal of Human Security, Librello publishing house, vol. 12(1), pages 52-73.
    16. Zhang, Bei & Chu, Rong-Wei & Nie, Jun, 2014. "Wealth distribution with state-dependent risk aversion," Research Working Paper RWP 13-9, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
    17. Spears, Dean, 2014. "Decision costs and price sensitivity: Field experimental evidence from India," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 169-184.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D19 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Other
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I39 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Other
    • J19 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Other

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