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When Commitment Fails: Evidence from a Field Experiment

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  • Anett John

    (Center for Research in Economics and Statistics (CREST), Palaiseau 91120, France)

Abstract

Commitment products can remedy self-control problems. However, imperfect knowledge about their preferences may (discontinuously) lead individuals to select into incentive-incompatible commitments, which reduce their welfare. I conducted a field experiment in which low-income individuals were randomly offered a new installment-savings commitment account. Individuals chose a personalized savings plan and a default penalty themselves. A majority appears to choose a harmful contract: While the average effect on bank savings is large, 55% of clients default and incur monetary losses. A possible explanation is that the chosen penalties were too low (the commitment was too weak) to overcome clients’ self-control problems. Measures of sophisticated hyperbolic discounting correlate negatively with take-up and default, and positively with penalty choices. This finding is consistent with theoretical predictions that partial sophisticates adopt weak commitments and then default, whereas full sophisticates are more cautious about committing, but better able to choose incentive-compatible contracts.

Suggested Citation

  • Anett John, 2020. "When Commitment Fails: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 66(2), pages 503-529, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:66:y:2020:i:2:p:503-529
    DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.2018.3236
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    6. Antonia Grohmann & Tabea Lakemann & Helke Seitz, 2020. "Savings Goal Calendars as Soft Commitment Devices: Evidence from Small Business Owners in Uganda," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1919, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    7. Laura Derksen & Jason. T Kerwin & Natalia Ordaz Reynoso & Olivier Sterck, 2021. "Appointments: A More Effective Commitment Device for Health Behaviors," CSAE Working Paper Series 2021-13, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    8. Havran, Dániel & Gosztonyi, Márton, 2021. "Karátos likviditásmenedzserek. Az arany ékszerek szerepe a háztartások likviditáskezelésében [Liquidity managers with carats. The role of gold jewellery in the liquidity management of households]," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(11), pages 1141-1161.
    9. Mariana Carrera & Heather Royer & Mark Stehr & Justin Sydnor & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2019. "Who Chooses Commitment? Evidence and Welfare Implications," NBER Working Papers 26161, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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