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Why Do Defaults Affect Behavior? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan

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  • Joshua Blumenstock
  • Michael Callen
  • Tarek Ghani

Abstract

We report on an experiment examining why default options impact behavior. By randomly assigning employees to different varieties of a salary-linked savings account, we find that default enrollment increases participation by 40 percentage points—an effect equivalent to providing a 50% matching incentive. We then use a series of experimental interventions to differentiate between explanations for the default effect, which we conclude is driven largely by present-biased preferences and the cognitive cost of thinking through different savings scenarios. Default assignment also changes employees' attitudes toward saving, and makes them more likely to actively decide to save after the study concludes.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua Blumenstock & Michael Callen & Tarek Ghani, 2017. "Why Do Defaults Affect Behavior? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan," NBER Working Papers 23590, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23590
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    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D15 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Intertemporal Household Choice; Life Cycle Models and Saving
    • D9 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

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