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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
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Christian Zimmermann Economic Research Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis PO Box 442 St. Louis MO 63166-0442 USA
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Web page: http://www.EconomicDynamics.org/society.htm
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  1. Kimball, Miles S, 1990. "Precautionary Saving in the Small and in the Large," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(1), pages 53-73, January.
  2. Erich Battistin & Raffale Miniaci & Guglielmo Weber, 2000. "What do we learn from recall consumption data?," IFS Working Papers W00/10, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  3. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2002. "Wealth Accumulation and the Propensity to Plan," NBER Working Papers 8920, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Erich Battistin, 2003. "Errors in survey reports of consumption expenditures," IFS Working Papers W03/07, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. Kocherlakota, Narayana R., 1998. "Money Is Memory," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 232-251, August.
  6. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2002. "Retirement Consumption: Insights from a Survey," NBER Working Papers 8735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. W. Pesendorfer & F. Gul, 1999. "Temptation and Self-Control," Princeton Economic Theory Papers 99f1, Economics Department, Princeton University.
  8. Rubinstein, Ariel, 1995. "On the Interpretation of Decision Problems with Imperfect Recall," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 324-324, December.
  9. Martin Browning & Thomas F. Crossley & Guglielmo Weber, 2002. "Asking Consumption Questions in General Purpose Surveys," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 77, McMaster University.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  13. Huck, Steffen & Müller, Wieland, 2000. "Absent-minded drivers in the lab: Testing Gilboa's model," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 2000,45, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.
  14. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy & Tom Tyler, 2004. "Measuring Self-Control," NBER Working Papers 10514, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Dow, James, 1991. "Search Decisions with Limited Memory," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(1), pages 1-14, January.
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