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Individual Learning About Consumption

  • Todd W. Allen
  • Christopher D. Carroll

The standard approach to modelling consumption/saving problems is to assume that the decisionmaker is solving a dynamic stochastic optimization problem. However, under realistic descriptions of utility and uncertainty, the optimal consumption/saving decision is so difficult that only recently have economists have managed to find solutions, using numerical methods that require previously infeasible amounts of computation. Yet empirical evidence suggests that household behavior conforms fairly well with the prescriptions of the optimal solution, raising the question of how average households can solve problems that economists, until recently, could not. This paper examines whether consumers might be able to find a reasonably good 'rule-of-thumb' approximation to optimal behavior by trial-and-error methods, as Friedman (1953) proposed long ago. We find that such individual learning methods can reliably identify reasonably good rules of thumb only if the consumer is able to spend absurdly large amounts of time searching for a good rule.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8234.

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Date of creation: Apr 2001
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Publication status: published as Allen, Todd W. & Carroll, Christopher D., 2001. "Individual Learning About Consumption," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(02), pages 255-271, April.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8234
Note: ME
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  1. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  2. Glenn R. Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, . "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 3-95, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  3. Christopher D Carroll, 1997. "Death to the Log-Linearized Consumption euler Equation! (And Very Poor Health to the Second-Order Approximation)," Economics Working Paper Archive 390, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics.
  4. Kreps,David M. & Wallis,Kenneth F. (ed.), 1997. "Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521589819.
  5. Hubbard, R. Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P., 1994. "The importance of precautionary motives in explaining individual and aggregate saving," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 59-125, June.
  6. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
  7. Kreps,David M. & Wallis,Kenneth F. (ed.), 1997. "Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521589826.
  8. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-92, July.
  9. Carroll, Christopher D, 1994. "How Does Future Income Affect Current Consumption?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 111-47, February.
  10. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Discussion Papers 96-01, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  11. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
  12. Kreps,David M. & Wallis,Kenneth F. (ed.), 1997. "Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521589833.
  13. Christopher D. Carroll, 2001. "A Theory of the Consumption Function, With and Without Liquidity Constraints (Expanded Version)," NBER Working Papers 8387, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Lettau, Martin, 1997. "Explaining the facts with adaptive agents: The case of mutual fund flows," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 21(7), pages 1117-1147, June.
  15. Gale, Douglas, 1996. "What have we learned from social learning?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 617-628, April.
  16. McCarthy, Jonathan, 1995. "Imperfect insurance and differing propensities to consume across households," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 301-327, November.
  17. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
  18. Stephen Zeldes, . "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 20-86, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  19. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
  20. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
  21. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
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