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The Welfare Effects of Nudges: A Case Study of Energy Use Social Comparisons

Author

Listed:
  • Hunt Allcott
  • Judd B. Kessler

Abstract

“Nudge”-style interventions are often deemed “successful” if they cause large behavior change, but they are rarely subjected to full social welfare evaluations. We combine a field experiment with a simple theoretical framework to evaluate the welfare effects of one especially policy-relevant intervention, home energy social comparison reports. In our sample, the reports increase social welfare, although traditional evaluation approaches overstate welfare gains by a factor of 3.7. Overall, the welfare gains from home energy reports might be overstated by $620 million. We develop a prediction algorithm for optimal targeting; this would double the welfare gains.

Suggested Citation

  • Hunt Allcott & Judd B. Kessler, 2015. "The Welfare Effects of Nudges: A Case Study of Energy Use Social Comparisons," NBER Working Papers 21671, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21671
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Cutler, David M. & Jessup, Amber & Kenkel, Donald & Starr, Martha A., 2015. "Valuing Regulations Affecting Addictive or Habitual Goods," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 247-280, June.
    2. Ian Ayres & Sophie Raseman & Alice Shih, 2013. "Evidence from Two Large Field Experiments that Peer Comparison Feedback Can Reduce Residential Energy Usage," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(5), pages 992-1022, October.
    3. Hunt Allcott, 2015. "Site Selection Bias in Program Evaluation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(3), pages 1117-1165.
    4. Lucas W. Davis & Erich Muehlegger, 2010. "Do Americans consume too little natural gas? An empirical test of marginal cost pricing," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 41(4), pages 791-810.
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    6. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2013. "Energy Conservation “Nudges” And Environmentalist Ideology: Evidence From A Randomized Residential Electricity Field Experiment," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 680-702, June.
    7. James Andreoni & Justin M. Rao & Hannah Trachtman, 2011. "Avoiding The Ask: A Field Experiment on Altruism, Empathy, and Charitable Giving," NBER Working Papers 17648, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Koichiro Ito, 2014. "Do Consumers Respond to Marginal or Average Price? Evidence from Nonlinear Electricity Pricing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(2), pages 537-563, February.
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    10. Hunt Allcott, 2013. "The Welfare Effects of Misperceived Product Costs: Data and Calibrations from the Automobile Market," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 30-66, August.
    11. Athey, Susan & Imbens, Guido W., 2015. "Machine Learning for Estimating Heterogeneous Causal Effects," Research Papers 3350, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Farrow, Katherine & Grolleau, Gilles & Ibanez, Lisette, 2017. "Social Norms and Pro-environmental Behavior: A Review of the Evidence," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 140(C), pages 1-13.
    2. Alec Brandon & Paul J. Ferraro & John A. List & Robert D. Metcalfe & Michael K. Price & Florian Rundhammer, 2017. "Do The Effects of Social Nudges Persist? Theory and Evidence from 38 Natural Field Experiments," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2017-04, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    3. John A. List & Robert D. Metcalfe & Michael K. Price & Florian Rundhammer, 2017. "Harnessing Policy Complementarities to Conserve Energy: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment," Experimental Economics Center Working Paper Series 2017-05, Experimental Economics Center, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
    4. Trier Damgaard, Mette & Gravert, Christina, 2016. "The hidden costs of nudging: Experimental evidence from reminders in fundraising," Working Papers in Economics 650, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    5. Jonathan D. Ketcham & Nicolai V. Kuminoff & Christopher A. Powers, 2016. "Estimating the Heterogeneous Welfare Effects of Choice Architecture: An Application to the Medicare Prescription Drug Insurance Market," NBER Working Papers 22732, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. repec:eee:pubeco:v:157:y:2018:i:c:p:15-26 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Nicolas Astier, 2016. "Comparative Feedbacks under Incomplete Information," Working Papers hal-01465189, HAL.
    8. Lucas C. Coffman & Clayton R. Featherstone & Judd B. Kessler, 2017. "Can Social Information Affect What Job You Choose and Keep?," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(1), pages 96-117, January.
    9. repec:beh:jbepv1:v:2:y:2018:i:1:p:61-67 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:eee:ecolec:v:148:y:2018:i:c:p:178-210 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C44 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Operations Research; Statistical Decision Theory
    • C53 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Forecasting and Prediction Models; Simulation Methods
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities
    • Q41 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Demand and Supply; Prices
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy

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