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Published September 2019 | Submitted
Journal Article Open

Toward an understanding of the development of time preferences: Evidence from field experiments


Time preferences have been correlated with a range of life outcomes, yet little is known about their early development. We conduct a field experiment to elicit time preferences of over 1200 children ages 3–12, who make several intertemporal decisions. To shed light on how such primitives form, we explore various channels that might affect time preferences, from background characteristics to the causal impact of an early schooling program that we developed and operated. Our results suggest that time preferences evolve substantially during this period, with younger children displaying more impatience than older children. We also find a strong association with race: black children, relative to white or Hispanic children, are more impatient. Finally, assignment to different schooling opportunities is not significantly associated with child time preferences.

Additional Information

© 2019 Elsevier B.V. Received 25 October 2017, Revised 14 June 2019, Accepted 23 June 2019, Available online 14 August 2019. We thank the Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant 5R01DK114238 for funding this project. We thank participants at the AEA meetings and Nadia Chernyak for helpful comments. We thank the directors, principals and staff at the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center and Illinois School District 170 for accommodating the data collection process. We thank Edie Dobrez, Jennie Huang, Phuong Ta, Kristin Troutman, Andre Gray and our staff of assessors for valuable research assistance. This research was conducted with the approval of the University of Chicago and University of Southern California Institutional Review Boards.

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August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023