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(Im)patience by Proxy: Making Intertemporal Decisions for Others

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Abstract

Decisions with consequences that play out over time are ubiquitous in business, policy, and family relations, and frequently the agent making these decisions is distinct from those who bear the consequences. We use a lab experiment to examine whether individuals make different intertemporal decisions for others of varying social distance than for themselves. Subjects make a series of intertemporal work time allocation decisions for themselves and for another individual, either a friend or a stranger. We find that people choose more impatiently (moving more disutility cost into the future) for others than for themselves. In other words, a decision made for you by proxy is more impatient than a decision you would make for yourself and thus is probably suboptimal. This result contrasts with some of the literature. This divergence may be because, as we find in a separate survey, people perceive procrastination of tasks as qualitatively different from other discounting decisions. Survey evidence suggests that individuals believe that they are more patient than other subjects, suggesting that these too-impatient decisions are made for others out of benevolence with a mistaken belief that the other is relatively impatient. Further, when the decision-maker sees information about how patient the recipient believes herself to be, this bias of excessively impatient decisions disappears, particularly when the recipient is a friend. Taken together, our results show that given limited information, proxy decision-makers choose more impatiently (pushing more costs into the future) than agents would prefer, but information mitigates this suboptimal choice. Our results also suggest that intertemporal choice over time is not behaviorally the same as over money.

Suggested Citation

  • Angela C.M. de Oliveira & Sarah Jacobson, 2017. "(Im)patience by Proxy: Making Intertemporal Decisions for Others," Department of Economics Working Papers 2017-01, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Oct 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:wil:wileco:2017-01
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    Cited by:

    1. Ifcher, John & Zarghamee, Homa, 2020. "Behavioral economic phenomena in decision-making for others," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 77(C).
    2. Lukas Kiessling & Shyamal Chowdhury & Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch & Matthias Sutter, 2021. "Parental Paternalism and Patience," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2021_03, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    3. Rong Rong & Therese C. Grijalva & Jayson Lusk & W. Douglass Shaw, 2019. "Interpersonal discounting," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 58(1), pages 17-42, February.
    4. Jones, Luke & Cseh, Attila, 2021. "Earning responsibility increases risk taking among representative decision makers," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 185(C), pages 317-329.
    5. Felix Koelle & Lukas Wenner, 2018. "Present-Biased Generosity: Time Inconsistency across Individual and Social Contexts," Discussion Papers 2018-02, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    6. Ifcher, John & Zarghamee, Homa, 2020. "Do Nominations Close the Gender Gap in Competition?," IZA Discussion Papers 13852, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Kölle, Felix & Wenner, Lukas, 2019. "Time-Inconsistent Generosity: Present Bias across Individual and Social Contexts," VfS Annual Conference 2019 (Leipzig): 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall - Democracy and Market Economy 203505, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    proxy decision-making; intertemporal choice; laboratory experiment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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