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Essays in behavioral economics : evidence from the field

  • Author(s): Lien, Jaimie Wei-hung
  • et al.

This dissertation analyzes economic behavior in three different field settings. Chapter 1 examines how students in a university dining program allocated spending of their meal points over time, given a known expiration date, fixed prices, and uniform initial endowment of meal points. I find aggregate retail sales nearly tripled their volume during the two weeks prior to the expiration date. This suggests that a more efficient spending plan may have been available for many students ex-ante. Analysis of individual student spending profiles shows a sizable fraction of students learned how to spend their meal points more smoothly towards the end of the year. The results support existing evidence from lifecycle savings and consumption literatures that individuals often delay paying attention to intertemporal planning problems. Chapter 2 examines the quitting decisions of slot machine gamblers using a casino dataset, asking whether the relationship between quitting decisions and winnings can be most easily reconciled using neoclassical expected utility theory or a Prospect Theory value function. Quitting decisions were highly concentrated near the monetary break-even point, consistent with Prospect Theory. Disproportionate quitting at a reference point persists conditional upon average wager size and number of bets taken, as measured by excess kurtosis. In addition, winnings distributions are positively skewed - implying that people are more likely to quit with winnings above the reference point than below it, and providing support for diminishing sensitivity of the value function's gains and loss segments. Chapter 3 analyzes contract choices of customers of an online layaway contractor. Participants paid a non-refundable price premium for monthly payments to be automatically deducted from their checking accounts towards the purchase of a retail item. Unlike traditional layaway, neither the price nor the availability of the item ordered was guaranteed, suggesting a key motivation for participating was as a savings commitment device. Customers selected greater monthly savings commitments for entertainment and leisure items, compared to more necessary household items. The result is robust to customer-specific effects, price of the item, outstanding layaway obligations, and the expected month of delivery

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