Asymmetric responses to tax-induced changes in personal income: the 2013 payroll tax hike versus anticipated 2012 tax refunds
As part of the Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition's free tax preparation service offered at the Boston Roxbury Resource Center between January and April 2013, 945 low-to-moderate income individuals were asked about payroll tax changes, financial planning, and their personal characteristics. Using these survey responses, the authors calculated how these individuals planned to respond to the payroll tax hike and their tax refund. The results show that their marginal propensity to consume (MPC) out of the tax refund is 30 percentage points lower than their spending reaction to the tax hike. Specifically, for every dollar less of income due to the payroll tax increase, consumption declines by 90 cents, while for each additional dollar of income from a tax refund, consumption increases by 60 cents. This asymmetric response is persistent across race, gender, and proxies of financial constraints such as credit scores, credit utilization, and so on. The lack of observable explanations for individuals' asymmetric behavior could be the result of the tax changes themselves being different in terms of their timing and method of delivery.
AUTHORS: Bracha, Anat; Cooper, Daniel H.
Shifting confidence in homeownership: the Great Recession
The authors study the responses to several questions related to real estate that were added to the Michigan Survey of Consumers in July and August 2011. In particular, they asked about attitudes toward renting versus buying a home, about commuting, and about how much to spend on a mortgage. By matching the results to data (at the ZIP-code level) about relative house price declines during the recent crisis, they can study the relationship between the U.S. housing crash and the attitudes of individual consumers. They find that younger respondents are relatively less confident about homeownership after larger price declines, while older respondents are relatively more confident. In both cases, this is observed only for those with direct experience of loss (via themselves or someone close) during the crash. They find no effect on attitudes towards commuting, and they find that people who live in the high-decline areas believe it is appropriate to spend more on a mortgage.
AUTHORS: Bracha, Anat; Jamison, Julian
A psychological perspective of financial panic
In spite of large number of financial crises, often depicted as episodes of financial panic, the notion of panic in financial markets is not very well understood. Many have argued that in order to understand financial crises, and in particular panic events, we need to go beyond classic economic arguments. This paper is an effort in that direction, in which we attempt to give a psychological account of panic and of panic in financial markets in particular, by discussing uncertainty, the desire for predictability and control, the illusion of control, and confidence. We suggest how one might incorporate these psychological insights into existing economic models.
AUTHORS: Bracha, Anat; Weber, Elke U.
Affirmative action and stereotype threat
In spite of the apparent success of affirmative action (AA) in the past, many oppose such policies. Opponents argue that the cost of attaining proportional representation by preferential policies is too high, reducing the quality of selected groups and stigmatizing members of the protected class. One way in which preferential policies might harm groups they are designed to benefit is by producing stereotype threat; that is, cueing a negative stereotype may lead individuals to conform to it. AA, by definition, singles out disadvantaged groups and therefore may unintentionally remind beneficiaries of relevant negative stereotypes and prime a stereotype threat effect. This paper investigates experimentally whether gender-based affirmative action, in the form of a quota, may have this unintended consequence. Using quantitative Graduate Record Examination (GRE) questions, we find that while affirmative action has a positive effect on the performance of non-high-ability women, it negatively affects high-ability women in our sample. Interestingly, there is no evidence that women (of any ability level) in the sample exert less effort under AA or in single-sex competition, or would benefit by doing so. Hence, these findings are consistent with affirmative action having an unintended negative consequence due to stereotype threat. Interestingly, men are not affected by the affirmative action policy regardless of their measured ability in this task. These results should be taken with caution, as this is the first study looking at the stereotype threat effect of AA.
AUTHORS: Conell-Price, Lynn; Bracha, Anat; Cohen, Alma
Investment decisions and negative interest rates
While the current European Central Bank deposit rate and 2-year German government bond yields are negative, the U.S. 2-year government bond and deposit rates are positive. Insights from Prospect Theory suggest that this situation may lead to an excess flow of funds into the United States. Yet the environment of negative interest rates is different from the environment considered in Prospect Theory and subsequent literature, since decisions are framed in terms of rates of return rather than absolute amounts and the task involves the allocation of funds rather than a choice or a pricing task as is often used in the literature. Moreover, parking money in the United States as a foreign investor may lead to a mixed lottery due to exchange rate risk, while the literature mostly studies non-mixed lotteries. We therefore explore investors? behavior in a mixed-return lottery, using a series of lab experiments where the task is to allocate money between two portfolios with either a sure return or a risky return. We use a between-subject design such that, while the investment decisions are the same, those in the negative frame allocate funds between a sure negative return and a lottery, and those in the positive frame allocate funds between a sure positive return and a lottery. Surprisingly, we find no framing effect on investment, a result that holds for a large range of stakes, no matter whether the money to invest is literally on the table, regardless of the language used to describe the problem (abstract or not), and no matter whether the lottery is a two-state or a three-state lottery. We find that this result is not driven by whether the task is continuous rather than discrete or because the risky portfolio is a mixed lottery. Not only do we find no effect of the frame on the investment decision, we also find no evidence of risk-seeking in the loss domain, and that the behavior is mostly risk-neutral.
AUTHORS: Bracha, Anat
How low can you go? Charity reporting when donations signal income and generosity
Consistent with nonprofit fundraising practices, donation visibility has been shown to increase giving. While concern for status is used to explain this response, the authors argue that this explanation relies on the assumption that giving signals only income or generosity. When giving signals both attributes overall status need not increase in donations, and donation-visibility may be harmful when individuals prefer to be perceived as poor-and-generous rather than rich-and-stingy. Using an experiment the authors find that both income-status and generosity-status concerns affect behavior. Furthermore, donation-visibility fails to increase contributions as low-income individuals select low donation amounts that are unlikely to be attributed to high-income individuals.
AUTHORS: Vesterlund, Lise; Bracha, Anat
The ups and downs of the gig economy, 2015–2017
A variety of researchers and public entities have estimated the prevalence of nontraditional work arrangements ? using diverse definitions ? in recent decades, and the topic has received increasing attention in the past five years. Despite numerous media reports that the prevalence of nonstandard work has increased since the Great Recession, not all sources agree on this point, and very little evidence exists relating to hours or earnings from such arrangements and their changes over time. Using unique data from the Survey of Informal Work Participation (SIWP), we describe changes in informal work activity across 2015, 2016, and 2017 along multiple dimensions and for a variety of specific jobs. Considering the net changes observed between 2015 and 2017, we find that participation rates and earnings were mostly flat across the period, while average hours for gig workers declined by economically and statistically significant margins. The aggregate number of full-time equivalent jobs embodied in informal work ? a measure combining participation rates and hours ? also declined by an economically significant margin between 2015 and 2017. A major exception to these trends is that average ridesharing hours more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2017. We find some evidence that the recent declines in informal work hours represented a response to declining unemployment rates, but during this time period there also appears to have been upward structural pressure on gig work that provided a particular boost to platform-based work.
AUTHORS: Bracha, Anat; Burke, Mary A.
Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially
This paper examines image motivation?the desire to be liked and well-regarded by others? as a driver in prosocial behavior (doing good), and asks whether extrinsic monetary incentives (doing well) have a detrimental effect on prosocial behavior due to crowding out of image motivation. ; By definition, image depends on one?s behavior being visible to other people. Using this unique property we show that image is indeed an important part of the motivation to behave prosocially. Moreover, we show that extrinsic incentives interact with image motivation and are therefore less effective in public than in private. Together, these results imply that image motivation is crowded out by monetary incentives; this means that monetary incentives are more likely to be counterproductive for public prosocial activities than for private ones.
AUTHORS: Meier, Stephan; Ariely, Dan; Bracha, Anat
Relative pay and labor supply
The authors use a labor supply; relative pay; experimental economics laboratory experiment to examine the impact of relative wages on labor supply. They test the hypothesis that, ceteris paribus, making a given wage high (low) relative to other wage levels will lead to an increase (decrease) in labor supply. They find that labor supply does respond significantly to relative pay, and in the expected direction. However, when a strong enough reason is given for the relative low pay, this difference disappears.
AUTHORS: Gneezy, Uri; Bracha, Anat
Who counts as employed?: informal work, employment status, and labor market slack
Several recent studies find that as of 2015, a significant share of working-age adults in the United States participates in nonstandard work arrangements. Such arrangements tend to lack long-term employment contracts and are often referred to as ?gig economy? jobs. This paper investigates the implications of nonstandard or ?informal? work for the measurement of employment status and labor market slack. Using original survey data, we find that as of 2015 roughly 37 percent of nonretired U.S. adults participated in some type of informal work, and roughly 20 percent participated in informal income-generating activities that did not exclusively involve renting out their own property or selling their own goods. The survey also elicits an individual?s employment status according to the definitions of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While not the majority, a significant share of those who engage in informal work are classified as not being in the labor force; if all informal workers were counted as employed, the U.S. labor force participation rate (as of 2015) would have been 2 percentage points higher. In addition, individuals who are classified as working ?part-time for economic reasons??those who would like a full-time job but cannot obtain full-time hours?have the highest participation rate in informal work and the highest average hours per month. This latter finding suggests that informal work embodies labor market slack, and we offer several pieces of evidence that support the thesis that workers engage in informal work as a way to compensate for weak labor demand and may therefore drop informal work as formal labor market conditions improve. To estimate the amount of labor market slack embodied in informal work, we convert the total hours of informal work performed by those classified as employed part-time into a number of full-time job equivalents. This exercise yields a figure that ranges from roughly 275,000 to roughly 400,000, depending on the specifics of the calculation. At the same time, we point out that a significant share of informal work hours offer higher wages than what the same individuals earn in their formal jobs. Therefore, formal wages may need to increase by a relatively large margin moving forward in order to attract additional labor into the formal sector.
AUTHORS: Bracha, Anat; Burke, Mary A.