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Economic Decision-Making in Poverty Depletes Behavioral Control

Research, Social Hierarchy1 min read

Author: Dean Spears

Published in: The BE Journal of economic analysis & policy

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Abstract:

Economic theory and conventional wisdom suggest that time preference can cause or perpetuate poverty. Might poverty also or instead cause impatient or impulsive behavior? This paper reports a randomized lab experiment and a partially randomized field experiment, both in India, and analysis of the American Time Use Survey.

In all three studies, poverty is associated with diminished behavioral control. The primary contribution of this empirical paper is to isolate the direction of causality from poverty to behavior. Three similar possible theoretical mechanisms, found in the psychology and behavioral economics literatures, cannot be definitively separated. One supported theoretical explanation is that poverty, by making economic decision-making more difficult, depletes cognitive control.

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r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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