Job Market Paper

Patience Across the Payday Cycle  [manuscript]

Individuals often behave impatiently when making financial decisions, which can have long-term economic consequences. This paper proposes and experimentally confirms an important factor for promoting more patient financial decision-making: the timing of financial decisions relative to payday. The payday cycle leads to strong systematic fluctuations in liquidity for many individuals, which may impact how they value the future. In a large pre-registered online experiment, participants make the choice to adopt a commitment device. Consistent with a model of projection bias where agents have self-control problems, participants who are asked to make this decision eight days before their payday, rather than one day after their payday, are 38% more likely to take up commitment. By documenting the importance of the timing of financial decisions relative to payday, this paper offers a new policy tool and deepens our understanding of why impatient decisions persist.

Working Papers

When Agents Give Up Agency: the Role of Decision Avoidance (with Christine Exley and Muriel Niederle)

A common policy problem is individuals reject recommended options and insist on making their own choices. Via a large-scaled experiment, we document and investigate what factors contribute to this preference for agency. Our main results show that individuals are more willing to give up their agency earlier in the decision-making process, particularly when doing so allows them to avoid making a decision.

Nudging the Commute: Using Behaviorally-Informed Interventions to Promote Sustainable Transportation in US cities (with Michael Daly, Lyndsay Gavin, Shibeal O’Flaherty, Jessica Roberts, Joseph Sherlock, and Ashley Whillans). Revise and Resubmit: Behavioral Science & Policy[manuscript]

Dramatic reductions in carbon emissions must take place immediately. A human-centric method of reducing environmental impacts is to “nudge” people away from single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) toward more sustainable commuting options. While an abundance of research has focused on external determinants of mode choice, we know much less about the behavioral determinants. The field of behavioral science is overdue for a focus on transportation. This paper is meant to facilitate communication between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in part by developing a behaviorally-informed framework that can be leveraged by policymakers, government, and organizations worldwide. We also describe the founding of our multidisciplinary team and outline lessons learned.

Work in Progress

The Impact of Removing Disincentives to Work

This paper investigates earnings incentives in public housing. For most people living in public housing, the cost rent is tied to one's income, and an increase in income leads to an increase in rent. This creates a disincentive towards earning more. I study a federal program that removes this connection, allowing residents to stay at their baseline level rent even if their income rises. In partnership with the Cambridge Housing Authoriy, we automatically enroll some residents in public housing into this program and provide them with financial coaching through the Boston-based nonprofit Compass Working Capital. Using administrative data from all CHA residents, I use a difference-in-difference approach to estimate that enrollment into the program led to an increase of approximately $4,000 in annual incomes, much of which is concentrated in households that are assigned to financial coaching. In addition, I present the descriptive statistics from door-to-door baseline and endline surveys that investigate changes in participants’ psychological and financial wellbeing.

The "Buy-in Effect": An Experimental Investigation into Encouraging Sustainable Commuting (with Ashley Whillans)

Most policy research in behavioral science centers around making engagement with policy programs easier by, for example, removing barriers to entry or setting defaults. We propose that there may be contexts when adding friction may improve welfare: when a program requires effortful follow-through to be successful. In that case, we suggest that creating a more effortful sign-up process may lead individuals to engage more with a program later on. We present results from a large-scale field experiment with the Oregon Department of Transportation that support this hypothesis. Users of a carpool platform were 24% more likely to take any carpool trips when they had an effortful sign-up process than when they had an account made for them. Out of those who took any trips, those that had an effortful sign-up process took on average 8 more trips on the platform. We show that these estimates are not the result of selection effects.