IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice: Evidence from Commodity Price Shocks

  • Justine Hastings
  • Jesse M. Shapiro

We formulate a test of the fungibility of money based on parallel shifts in the prices of different quality grades of a commodity. We embed the test in a discrete-choice model of product quality choice and estimate the model using panel microdata on gasoline purchases. We find that when gasoline prices rise consumers substitute to lower octane gasoline, to an extent that cannot be explained by income effects. Across a wide range of specifications, we consistently reject the null hypothesis that households treat "gas money" as fungible with other income. We evaluate the quantitative performance of a set of psychological models of decision-making in explaining the patterns we observe. We also use our findings to shed light on extant stylized facts about the time-series properties of retail markups in gasoline markets.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18248.

in new window

Date of creation: Jul 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2013) 128 (4): 1449-1498. doi: 10.1093/qje/qjt018 First published online: June 22, 2013
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18248
Note: IO
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
  2. Soren T. Anderson & Ryan Kellogg & James M. Sallee, 2011. "What Do Consumers Believe About Future Gasoline Prices?," NBER Working Papers 16974, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Naomi E. Feldman, 2010. "Mental Accounting Effects of Income Tax Shifting," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 70-86, February.
  4. Tullio Jappelli & Luigi Pistaferri, 2010. "The Consumption Response to Income Changes," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 479-506, 09.
  5. Katherine L. Milkman & John L. Beshears, 2007. "Mental Accounting and Small Windfalls: Evidence from an Online Grocer," Harvard Business School Working Papers 08-024, Harvard Business School, revised Sep 2008.
  6. Aviv Nevo, 2000. "A Practitioner's Guide to Estimation of Random-Coefficients Logit Models of Demand," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 9(4), pages 513-548, December.
  7. Christopher Knittel & Daniel Sperling, 2006. "Evidence of a Shift in the Short-Run Price Elasticity of Gasoline Demand," Working Papers 625, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  8. Christopher R. Knittel & Ryan Sandler, 2011. "Cleaning the Bathwater with the Baby: The Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Pricing in Transportation," NBER Working Papers 17390, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Atif Mian & Amir Sufi, 2009. "The Consequences of Mortgage Credit Expansion: Evidence from the U.S. Mortgage Default Crisis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1449-1496.
  10. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-90, July.
  11. Gicheva, Dora & Hastings, Justine & Villas-Boas, Sofia B, 2008. "Revisiting the Income Effect: Gasoline Prices and Grocery Purchases," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt7087m1p6, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
  12. Michael D. Grubb & Matthew Osborne, 2015. "Cellular Service Demand: Biased Beliefs, Learning, and Bill Shock," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(1), pages 234-71, January.
  13. Lewis, Matt, 2004. "Asymmetric Price Adjustment and Consumer Search: An Examination of the Retail Gasoline Market," Competition Policy Center, Working Paper Series qt9pv2d9fn, Competition Policy Center, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  14. Claudia R. Sahm & Matthew D. Shapiro & Joel B. Slemrod, 2010. "Check in the mail or more in the paycheck: does the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus depend on how it is delivered?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2010-40, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  15. Johannes Abeler & Felix Marklein, 2010. "Fungibility, Labels and Consumption," Discussion Papers 2010-13, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  16. Greg M. Allenby & Peter E. Rossi, 1991. "Quality Perceptions and Asymmetric Switching Between Brands," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 10(3), pages 185-204.
  17. Malmendier, Ulrike M. & Della Vigna, Stefano, 2003. "Contract Design and Self Control: Theory and Evidence," Research Papers 1801, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  18. Deaton,Angus & Muellbauer,John, 1980. "Economics and Consumer Behavior," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521296762, September.
  19. Suzanne Fogel & Dan Lovallo & Carmina Caringal, 2004. "Loss Aversion for Quality in Consumer Choice," Australian Journal of Management, Australian School of Business, vol. 29(1), pages 45-63, June.
  20. James L. Smith, 2008. "World Oil: Market or Mayhem?," Working Papers 0815, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
  21. Botond Kőszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2006. "A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1133-1165.
  22. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:4:y:2006:i:35:p:1-6 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. Sam Peltzman, 2000. "Prices Rise Faster than They Fall," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(3), pages 466-502, June.
  24. R. Morris Coats & Gary M. Pecquet & Leon Taylor, 2005. "The pricing of gasoline grades and the third law of demand," Microeconomics 0506006, EconWPA.
  25. Pedro Bordalo & Nicola Gennaioli & Andrei Shleifer, 2010. "Salience and consumer choice," Economics Working Papers 1252, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised May 2012.
  26. Kwangpil Chang & S. Siddarth & Charles B. Weinberg, 1999. "The Impact of Heterogeneity in Purchase Timing and Price Responsiveness on Estimates of Sticker Shock Effects," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 18(2), pages 178-192.
  27. Lundberg, Shelly & Pollak, Robert A, 1993. "Separate Spheres Bargaining and the Marriage Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(6), pages 988-1010, December.
  28. Setiawan, Winardi & Sperling, Daniel, 1993. "Premium Gasoline Overbuying in the U.S.: Consumer-Based Choice Analysis," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt2v86h1sp, University of California Transportation Center.
  29. Barzel, Yoram, 1976. "An Alternative Approach to the Analysis of Taxation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(6), pages 1177-97, December.
  30. Read, Daniel & Loewenstein, George & Rabin, Matthew, 1999. "Choice Bracketing," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 171-97, December.
  31. Levon Barseghyan & Francesca Molinari & Ted O'Donoghue & Joshua C. Teitelbaum, 2012. "The Nature of Risk Preferences: Evidence from Insurance Choices," CESifo Working Paper Series 3933, CESifo Group Munich.
  32. Jean-Pierre Dubé, 2004. "Multiple Discreteness and Product Differentiation: Demand for Carbonated Soft Drinks," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 23(1), pages 66-81, September.
  33. John B. Taylor, 2009. "The Financial Crisis and the Policy Responses: An Empirical Analysis of What Went Wrong," NBER Working Papers 14631, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  34. Amil Petrin, 2002. "Quantifying the Benefits of New Products: The Case of the Minivan," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 705-729, August.
  35. Melvin Stephens, 2001. "The Long-Run Consumption Effects Of Earnings Shocks," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(1), pages 28-36, February.
  36. Peter Kooreman, 2000. "The Labeling Effect of a Child Benefit System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 571-583, June.
  37. Robert Lawson & Lauren Raymer, 2006. "Testing the Alchian-Allen Theorem: A Study of Consumer Behavior in the Gasoline Market," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 4(35), pages 1-6.
  38. Sobel, Russell S & Garrett, Thomas A, 1997. "Taxation and Product Quality: New Evidence from Generic Cigarettes," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(4), pages 880-87, August.
  39. Willig, Robert D., 1978. "Incremental consumer's surplus and hedonic price adjustment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 227-253, April.
  40. Hanemann, W Michael, 1984. "Discrete-Continuous Models of Consumer Demand," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 541-61, May.
  41. Steven T. Berry, 1994. "Estimating Discrete-Choice Models of Product Differentiation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(2), pages 242-262, Summer.
  42. N/A, 2009. "On the Recession," Local Economy, London South Bank University, vol. 24(3), pages 253-253, May.
  43. Meghan R. Busse & Christopher R. Knittel & Florian Zettelmeyer, 2009. "Pain at the Pump: The Differential Effect of Gasoline Prices on New and Used Automobile Markets," NBER Working Papers 15590, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  44. Melvin Stephens, 2004. "Job Loss Expectations, Realizations, and Household Consumption Behavior," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(1), pages 253-269, February.
  45. Michael Conlin & Ted O'Donoghue & Timothy J. Vogelsang, 2007. "Projection Bias in Catalog Orders," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(4), pages 1217-1249, September.
  46. David R. Bell & James M. Lattin, 2000. "Looking for Loss Aversion in Scanner Panel Data: The Confounding Effect of Price Response Heterogeneity," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 19(2), pages 185-200, May.
  47. Heath, Chip & Soll, Jack B, 1996. " Mental Budgeting and Consumer Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(1), pages 40-52, June.
  48. Skinner, Jonathan, 1987. "A superior measure of consumption from the panel study of income dynamics," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 213-216.
  49. Heiss, Florian & Winschel, Viktor, 2008. "Likelihood approximation by numerical integration on sparse grids," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 144(1), pages 62-80, May.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18248. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.