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Socioeconomic differences in early childhood time preferences


  • Delaney, Liam
  • Doyle, Orla


This article examines the extent to which early childhood socioeconomic differences emerge in hyperactivity, impulsivity and persistence, all of which are psychometric analogues to how economists conceptualise time discounting. We control for a wide range of factors including parental investment and proxies for maternal time preferences. Our results show substantial social class variations across measures at age 3. We find weak evidence that these measures are predicted by differential maternal behaviours (e.g. savings behaviour, smoking) but relatively stronger evidence that these traits are transmitted through the parents’ own non-cognitive skills (self-esteem, attachment) and parental time investments (time spent reading to the child and teaching the child to write, sing).

Suggested Citation

  • Delaney, Liam & Doyle, Orla, 2012. "Socioeconomic differences in early childhood time preferences," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 237-247.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:33:y:2012:i:1:p:237-247 DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2011.08.010

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Becker & Casey B. Mulligan, 1997. "The Endogenous Determination of Time Preference," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(3), pages 729-758.
    2. Lex Borghans & Angela Lee Duckworth & James J. Heckman & Bas ter Weel, 2008. "The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    3. Doyle, Orla & Harmon, Colm P. & Heckman, James J. & Tremblay, Richard E., 2009. "Investing in early human development: Timing and economic efficiency," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 1-6, March.
    4. Michael Daly & Liam Delaney & Colm P. Harmon, 2009. "Psychological and Biological Foundations of Time Preference," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 659-669, 04-05.
    5. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2003. "Human Capital Policy," IZA Discussion Papers 821, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Cipriani, Marco & Giuliano, Paola & Jeanne, Olivier, 2013. "Like mother like son? Experimental evidence on the transmission of values from parents to children," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 100-111.
    7. Bettinger, Eric & Slonim, Robert, 2007. "Patience among children," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(1-2), pages 343-363, February.
    8. David M. Blau, 1999. "The Effect Of Income On Child Development," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(2), pages 261-276, May.
    9. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk & David Huffman & Uwe Sunde, 2012. "The Intergenerational Transmission of Risk and Trust Attitudes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 645-677.
    10. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2002. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1308-1334, December.
    11. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
    12. David M. Bishai, 2004. "Does time preference change with age?," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 17(4), pages 583-602, December.
    13. Najman, Jake M. & Aird, Rosemary & Bor, William & O'Callaghan, Michael & Williams, Gail M. & Shuttlewood, Gregory J., 2004. "The generational transmission of socioeconomic inequalities in child cognitive development and emotional health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(6), pages 1147-1158, March.
    14. Read, Daniel & Read, N. L., 2004. "Time discounting over the lifespan," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 94(1), pages 22-32, May.
    15. Leon Feinstein, 2003. "Inequality in the Early Cognitive Development of British Children in the 1970 Cohort," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 70(277), pages 73-97, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Belot, Michèle & James, Jonathan & Nolen, Patrick, 2016. "Incentives and children's dietary choices: A field experiment in primary schools," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 213-229.
    2. Non, Arjan & Tempelaar, Dirk, 2016. "Time preferences, study effort, and academic performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 36-61.
    3. Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah & Deckers, Thomas & Falk, Armin & Kosse, Fabian, 2014. "How Does Socio-Economic Status Shape a Child's Personality?," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100285, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    4. Mark E. McGovern & Slawa Rokicki, 2017. "Heterogeneity in Early Life Investments: A Longitudinal Analysis of Children’s Time Use," Working Papers 201703, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    5. Frank Heiland & Joseph Price & Riley Wilson, 2017. "Maternal employment and time investments in children," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 53-67, March.
    6. Belot, Michele & James, Jonathan & Nolen, Patrick, 2014. "Incentives and Children's Dietary Choices:A Field Experiment in Primary Schools," Department of Economics Working Papers 41226, University of Bath, Department of Economics.
    7. Sarah Gibney & Mark E. McGovern & Erika Sabbath, 2013. "Social Relationships in Later Life: The Role of Childhood Circumstances," Working Papers 201319, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    8. repec:esx:essedp:753 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Behavioural economics; Intertemporal choice;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D9 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics


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