Omar Al-Ubaydli, John A List, Dana L Suskind
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Policymakers are increasingly turning to insights gained from the experimental method as a means of informing public policies. Whether-and to what extent-insights from a research study scale to the level of the broader public is, in many situations, based on blind faith. This scale-up problem can lead to a vast waste of resources, a missed opportunity to improve people's lives, and a diminution in the public's trust in the scientific method's ability to contribute to policymaking. This study provides a theoretical lens to deepen our understanding of the science of how to use science. Through a simple model, we highlight three elements of the scale-up problem: (1) when does evidence become actionable (appropriate statistical inference); (2) properties of the population; and (3) properties of the situation. We argue that until these three areas are fully understood and recognized by researchers and policymakers, the threats to scalability will render any scaling exercise as particularly vulnerable. In this way, our work represents a challenge to empiricists to estimate the nature and extent of how important the various threats to scalability are in practice, and to implement those in their original research.
Alec Brandon, John A List, Robert D Metcalfe, Michael K Price, Florian Rundhammer
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This study considers the response of household electricity consumption to social nudges during peak load events. Our investigation considers two social nudges. The first targets conservation during peak load events, while the second promotes aggregate conservation. Using data from a natural field experiment with 42,100 households, we find that both social nudges reduce peak load electricity consumption by 2 to 4% when implemented in isolation and by nearly 7% when implemented in combination. These findings suggest an important role for social nudges in the regulation of electricity markets and a limited role for crowd out effects.
James Andreoni, Amalia Di Girolamo, John A List, Claire Mackevicius, Anya Samek
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We conduct experiments eliciting risk preferences with over 1,400 children and adolescents aged 3-15 years old. We complement our data with an assessment of cognitive and executive function skills. First, we find that adolescent girls display significantly greater risk aversion than adolescent boys. This pattern is not observed among young children, suggesting that the risk gap in risk preferences emerges in early adolescence. Second, we find that at all ages in our study, cognitive skills (specifically math ability) are positively associated with risk taking. Executive functions among children, and soft skills among adolescents, are negatively associated with risk taking. Third, we find that greater risk-tolerance is associated with higher likelihood of disciplinary referrals, which provides evidence that our task is equipped to measure a relevant behavioral outcome. For academics, our research provides a deeper understanding of the developmental origins of risk preferences and highlights the important role of cognitive and executive function skills to better understand the association between risk preferences and cognitive abilities over the studied age range.
Haoran He, David Neumark, Qian Weng
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We explore compensating differentials for job flexibility, using a field experiment conducted on a Chinese job board. Our job ads differ randomly regarding when one works (time flexibility) and where one works (place flexibility). We find strong evidence that workers value job flexibility - especially regarding place of work. Application rates are higher to flexible jobs, conditional on the salary offered. Additional survey evidence indicates that workers are willing to take lower pay for more flexible jobs. Non-experimental job board data do not indicate that workers value job flexibility, reinforcing the difficulty of estimating compensating differentials from observational data.
Greer K Gosnell, John A List, Robert D Metcalfe
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Increasing evidence indicates the importance of management in determining firms' productivity. Yet, causal evidence regarding the effectiveness of management practices is scarce, especially for high-skilled workers in the developed world. In an eight-month field experiment measuring the productivity of captains in the commercial aviation sector, we test four distinct management practices: (i) performance monitoring; (ii) performance feedback; (iii) target setting; and (iv) prosocial incentives. We find that these management practices -particularly performance monitoring and target setting- significantly increase captains' productivity with respect to the targeted fuel-saving dimensions. We identify positive spillovers of the tested management practices on job satisfaction and carbon dioxide emissions, and captains overwhelmingly express desire for deeper managerial engagement. Both the implementation and the results of the study reveal an uncharted opportunity for management researchers to delve into the black box of firms and rigorously examine the determinants of productivity amongst skilled labor.
John A List, Fatemeh Momeni
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We use a natural field experiment in which we hired over 2000 workers from an online labor market to explore how upfront payment affects worker motivation and misbehavior on the job. We start with a simple theory that shows paying upfront can increase misbehavior through reducing the perceived costs of cheating, but it can decrease misbehavior through generating a gift-exchange effect. Motivated by the theory, we designed a task that provided workers with opportunities to reciprocate or misbehave. A unique aspect of our design is that we are permitted an opportunity to measure the curvature of the gift-exchange value of the upfront payment. Our results suggest paying workers upfront induces a gift-exchange effect that is concave in the share of total wage paid upfront. Moreover, the impact is strong enough to suggest that small upfront payments are a cost-effective means for an employer to curb employee misbehavior.
Andrew Dustan, Juan Manuel Hernandez-Agramonte, Stanislao Maldonado
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We study how non-monetary incentives, motivated by recent advances in behavioral economics, affect civil servant performance in a context where state capacity is weak. We collaborated with a government agency in Peru to experimentally vary the context of text messages targeted to civil servants in charge of a school maintenance program. These messages incorporated behavioral insights in dimensions related to information provision, social norms, and weak forms of monitoring and auditing. We find that these messages are a very cost-effective strategy to enforce compliance with national policies among civil servants. We further study the role of social norms and the salience of social benefits in a follow-up experiment and explore the external validity or our original results by implementing a related experiment with civil servants from a different national program. The findings of these new experiments support our original results and provide additional insights regarding the context in which these incentives may work. Our results highlight the importance of carefully designed non-monetary incentives as a tool to improve civil servant performance when the state lacks institutional mechanisms to enforce compliance.
Omar Al-Ubaydli, John A List
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This is a review of the literature of field experimental studies of markets. The main results covered by the review are as follows: (1) Generally speaking, markets organize the efficient exchange of commodities; (2) There are some behavioral anomalies that impede efficient exchange; (3) Many behavioral anomalies disappear when traders are experienced.
Maya Haran Rosen , Orly Sade
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Define contribution mechanism combined with a dynamic job market can affect the sum of retirement savings and the choices of plans and products. Hence, it is important for regulators to engage servers to manage the accounts they accumulate over the years. In 2013-2014 the Israeli regulator reached out to the population, recommending the use of a website to help individuals find inactive retirement savings accounts and close them (withdraw the savings or transfer them to active accounts). The government's efforts did not result in the closure of most of the inactive accounts. Proprietary data indicate that those who closed the inactive accounts live in central locations with a higher socioeconomic index. Survey data indicate that those who lacked financial literacy and confidence in their financial knowledge were less likely to take financial actions. Using a controlled field experiment, we also provide evidence that an intervention with a human touch can promote greater involvement.
Indranil Goswami, Oleg Urminsky
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We present a complete empirical case study of fundraising decisions that demonstrates the importance of in-context field experiments. We first design novel matching-based fundraising appeals. We derive theory-based predictions from the standard impure altruism model and solicit expert opinion about the potential performance of our interventions. Both theory-based predictions and descriptive advice suggest improved fundraising performance from a framing intervention that credited donors for the matched funds (compared to a typical match framing). However, results from a natural field experiment with prior donors of a non-profit showed significantly poorer performance of this framing compared to a regularly framed matching intervention. This surprising finding was confirmed in a second natural field experiment, to establish the ground truth. Theoretically, our results highlight the limitations of both impure altruism models and of expert opinion in prediction complex "warm glow" motivation. More practically, our results question the availability of useful guidance, and suggest the indispensability of field testing for interventions in fundraising.
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