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The Absentminded Consumer

  • John Leahy
  • Andrew Caplin

We develop a life-cycle model that captures "absent-mindedness": the fact that many households have only the sketchiest understanding of their pattern of spending. The model generates precautionary spending, whereby absent-minded agents tend to consume more than attentive ones. The model also predicts fluctuations over time in the level of attention, and thereby sheds new light on the sharp reduction in consumption both at retirement, and in cyclical downturns. Finally, the model suggests strong analogies between control problems of the sort encountered by our absent-minded consumer and the more familiar problems of self control. We test the model on data collected from a new survey of TIAA-CREF participants

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2004 Meeting Papers with number 784.

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Date of creation: 2004
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Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:784
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Society for Economic Dynamics Marina Azzimonti Department of Economics Stonybrook University 10 Nicolls Road Stonybrook NY 11790 USA

Web page: http://www.EconomicDynamics.org/
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  1. Erich Battistin & Raffaele Miniaci & Guglielmo Weber, 2003. "What Do We Learn from Recall Consumption Data?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(2).
  2. W. Pesendorfer & F. Gul, 1999. "Temptation and Self-Control," Princeton Economic Theory Papers 99f1, Economics Department, Princeton University.
  3. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 2001. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth among U.S. Households?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 832-857, September.
  4. Martin Browning & Thomas F. Crossley & Gugliemo Weber, 2002. "Asking Consumption Questions in General Purpose Surveys," CAM Working Papers 2002-05, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics. Centre for Applied Microeconometrics.
  5. James Dow, 1991. "Search Decisions with Limited Memory," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 58(1), pages 1-14.
  6. Kimball, Miles S, 1990. "Precautionary Saving in the Small and in the Large," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(1), pages 53-73, January.
  7. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1995. "On the Interpretation of Decision Problems with Imperfect Recall," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 324-324, December.
  8. A. Sandmo, 1970. "The Effect of Uncertainty on Saving Decisions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 37(3), pages 353-360.
  9. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
  10. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2003. "Wealth Accumulation and the Propensity to Plan," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1007-1047.
  11. Banks, James & Blundell, Richard & Tanner, Sarah, 1998. "Is There a Retirement-Savings Puzzle?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 769-88, September.
  12. Huck, S. & Müller, W., 2002. "Absent-minded drivers in the lab : Testing Gilboa's model," Other publications TiSEM d741c924-4e37-40ec-b617-4, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  13. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy & Tom Tyler, 2004. "Measuring Self-Control," NBER Working Papers 10514, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Narayana R. Kocherlakota, 1996. "Money is memory," Staff Report 218, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  15. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2007. "Retirement Consumption: Insights from a Survey," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 265-274, May.
  16. James Dow, 1991. "Search Decisions with Limited Memory," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 58(1), pages 1-14.
  17. Erich Battistin, 2002. "Errors in Survey Reports of Consumption Expenditures," 10th International Conference on Panel Data, Berlin, July 5-6, 2002 C4-2, International Conferences on Panel Data.
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