Patience in children: Evidence from experimental economics


Eric P. Bettinger


Robert Slonim

Year of Publication: 
Journal of Public Economics

Recent policy initiatives offer cash payments to children (and often their families) to induce better health and educational choices. These policies implicitly assume that children are especially impatient (i.e., have high discount rates); however, little is known about the nature of children's patience, how it varies across children, and whether children can even make rational inter-temporal choices. This paper examines the inter-temporal choices of 5- to 16-year-old children in an artefactual field experiment. We examine their choices between varying levels of compensation received in 2 or 4 months in the future and in 0 or 2 months in the future. We find that children's choices are consistent with hyperbolic discounting, boys are less patient than girls, older children are more patient and that mathematical achievement test scores, private schooling and parent's patience are not correlated with children's patience. We also find that although more than 25% of children do not make rational inter-temporal choices within a single two-period time frame, we cannot find variables that explain this behavior other than age and standardized mathematical achievement test scores.

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APA Citation

Bettinger, E.P., & Slonim, R. (2007). Patience in children: Evidence from experimental economics. Journal of Public Economics, 91(1-2), 343-363.