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What Are the Headwaters of Formal Savings? Experimental Evidence from Sri Lanka


  • Michael Callen
  • Suresh de Mel
  • Craig McIntosh
  • Christopher Woodruff


The world’s poor are seeing a rapid expansion in access to formal savings accounts. What is the source of savings when households are connected to a formal account? We combine a high-frequency panel survey spanning two and a half years with an experiment in which a Sri Lankan bank used mobile Point-of-Service (POS) terminals to collect deposits directly from households each week. We find that the headwaters of formal savings lie in sacrificed leisure time: households work more, and improved savings options generate an increase in labour effort in both self-employment and in the wage market. The results suggest that the labour allocation channel is an important mechanism linking savings opportunities to income.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Callen & Suresh de Mel & Craig McIntosh & Christopher Woodruff, 2019. "What Are the Headwaters of Formal Savings? Experimental Evidence from Sri Lanka," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 86(6), pages 2491-2529.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:86:y:2019:i:6:p:2491-2529.

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    Savings; Intertemporal labour supply; Household decision-making; High-frequency surveys;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O16 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Financial Markets; Saving and Capital Investment; Corporate Finance and Governance
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages


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