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Consumption smoothing and the welfare cost of uncertainty

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  • Alem, Yonas
  • Colmer, Jonathan

Abstract

Separating the effects of uncertainty from realised events, and identifying the welfare effects of uncertainty, present a number of empirical challenges. Combining individuallevel panel data from rural Ethiopia with high-resolution meteorological data, we introduce a new proxy for income uncertainty - mean-preserving rainfall variability - and estimate that an increase in income uncertainty is associated with reductions in objective consumption and subjective well-being (SWB). Furthermore, 86% of the effect on SWB is attributed to the direct effects of uncertainty, consistent with a model of optimal expectations (Brunnermeier and Parker, 2005). In addition, we find that farmers in more uncertain environments are more resilient to realised rainfall shocks, consistent with a trade-off between optimism about the future and risk-management investments today. These findings suggest that the gains from further consumption smoothing are likely greater than estimates based solely on realised consumption fluctuations.

Suggested Citation

  • Alem, Yonas & Colmer, Jonathan, 2018. "Consumption smoothing and the welfare cost of uncertainty," Ruhr Economic Papers 780, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:rwirep:780
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stefan Dercon & Catherine Porter, 2014. "Live Aid Revisited: Long-Term Impacts Of The 1984 Ethiopian Famine On Children," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(4), pages 927-948, August.
    2. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2009. "Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 8769.
    3. Jonathan Colmer, 2018. "Weather, Labor Reallocation and Industrial Production: Evidence from India," CEP Discussion Papers dp1544, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    4. Carrière-Swallow, Yan & Céspedes, Luis Felipe, 2013. "The impact of uncertainty shocks in emerging economies," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 316-325.
    5. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & George Ward & Femke De Keulenaer & Bert Van Landeghem & Georgios Kavetsos & Michael I. Norton, 2018. "The Asymmetric Experience of Positive and Negative Economic Growth: Global Evidence Using Subjective Well-Being Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(2), pages 362-375, May.
    6. Catherine Porter, 2012. "Shocks, Consumption and Income Diversification in Rural Ethiopia," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 48(9), pages 1209-1222, September.
    7. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Alex Rees-Jones, 2012. "What Do You Think Would Make You Happier? What Do You Think You Would Choose?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 2083-2110, August.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    income uncertainty; consumption smoothing; subjective well-being; rainfall variability;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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