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Read This Paper Even Later: Procrastination with Time-Inconsistent Preferences

  • Fischer, Carolyn

    ()

    (Resources for the Future)

Salience costs, along with imperfect foresight, have been used in previous studies to explain procrastination of a one-time task. A companion to this paper, "Read This Paper Later: Procrastination with Time-Consistent Preferences" analyzes the extent to which procrastination of a divisible task is compatible with rational behavior. While the fully rational model explains key qualitative observations, it requires an extremely high rate of time preference or elasticity of intertemporal substitution to generate serious procrastination and cannot explain undesired procrastination at all. This paper investigates the extent to which dynamically inconsistent preferences can better explain such impatience and address the issue of self-control failures. Two types of discount functions are presented, motivated by previous salience cost explanations. Hyperbolic discounting corresponds to a salient present; short-term discount rates are higher than long-term ones. A new form, differential discounting, arises from salient costs; utility from leisure is discounted at a higher rate than rewards from work. The model of a divisible task with delayed rewards generates clear predictions that can be used to distinguish between types. When workers have rational expectations about future behavior, both regimes induce self-control problems and sharper procrastination than standard exponential discounting. However, they have different implications for policies to induce work, reduce procrastination, and improve welfare.

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Paper provided by Resources For the Future in its series Discussion Papers with number dp-99-20.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 1999
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Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-99-20
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  1. Martin Luckert & Wiktor Adamowicz, 1993. "Empirical measures of factors affecting social rates of discount," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 3(1), pages 1-21, February.
  2. O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt7t44m5b0, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  3. Fischer, Carolyn, 1999. "Read This Paper Later: Procrastination with Time-Consistent Preferences," Discussion Papers dp-99-19, Resources For the Future.
  4. Loewenstein, George & Prelec, Drazen, 1992. "Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 573-97, May.
  5. Akerlof, George A, 1991. "Procrastination and Obedience," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 1-19, May.
  6. H. M. Shefrin & Richard Thaler, 1977. "An Economic Theory of Self-Control," NBER Working Papers 0208, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Schelling, Thomas C, 1984. "Self-Command in Practice, in Policy, and in a Theory of Rational Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 1-11, May.
  8. Schelling, Thomas C, 1978. "Egonomics, or the Art of Self-Management," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 290-94, May.
  9. Peleg, Bezalel & Yaari, Menahem E, 1973. "On the Existence of a Consistent Course of Action when Tastes are Changing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(3), pages 391-401, July.
  10. Loewenstein, George, 1987. "Anticipation and the Valuation of Delayed Consumption," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 97(387), pages 666-84, September.
  11. David I. Laibson, 1996. "Hyperbolic Discount Functions, Undersaving, and Savings Policy," NBER Working Papers 5635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Laitner, John P., 1980. "Intergenerational preference differences and optimal national saving," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 56-66, February.
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