Monday, March 14, 2016

International comparisons of time discounting

From How time preferences differ: Evidence from 53 countries by Mei Wanga, Marc Oliver Riegerb, and Thorsten Hens.
We present results from the first large-scale international survey on time preference, conducted in 53 countries. All countries exhibit hyperbolic discounting patterns, i.e., the immediate future is discounted more than far future. We also observe higher heterogeneity for shorter time horizons, consistent with the pattern reviewed by Frederick, Loewenstein, and O’Donoghue (2002). Cultural factors as captured by the Hofstede cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 1991) contribute significantly to the variation of time discounting, even after controlling for economic factors, such as GDP, inflation rate and growth rate. In particular, higher levels of Uncertainty Avoidance are associated with stronger hyperbolic discounting, whereas higher degrees of Individualism and Long Term Orientation predict stronger tendency to wait for larger payoffs. We also find the waiting tendency is correlated with innovation, environmental protection, crediting rating, and body mass index at country level after controlling for county wealth. These results help us to enhance the understanding of differences across financial markets and economic behavior worldwide.
I have long argued that time discounting, both at an individual behavioral level and at a national level, has a measurable causal relationship with good life outcomes and national GDP outcomes. This is also correlated with Trust.

Countries with low cultural trust and individuals with low degrees of trust have a high time discount. They would much rather take a smaller prize today than a larger one later. Countries with a high degree of trust and low time discounts can afford to make long term investments that are likely to have greater long term yields. Interesting to see those suppositions supported by this research.

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