“Emotions, Risk Attitudes, and Patience” Nov., 2018.
Previous work has shown that preferences are not always stable across time, but surprisingly little is known about the reasons for this instability. I examine whether variation in people’s emotions over time predicts changes in preferences. Using a large panel data set, I find that within-person changes in happiness, anger, and fear have substantial effects on risk attitudes and patience. Robustness checks indicate a limited role of alternative explanations. I further address potential endogeneity concerns by exploiting information about the death of a parent or child. This identification strategy confirms a large causal impact of emotions on preferences.
Do emotions affect the decision between change and the status quo? We exploit exogenous variation in emotions caused by rain and analyze data on more than 870,000 municipal vote outcomes in Switzerland to address this question. The empirical tests are based on administrative ballot outcomes and individual postvote survey data. We find that rain decreases the share of votes for political change. Our robustness checks suggest that changes in the composition of the electorate or changes in information acquisition do not drive this result. In addition, we provide evidence that rain might have altered the outcome of several high-stake votes. We discuss the psychological mechanism and document that rain reduces the willingness to take risks, a pattern that is consistent with the observed reduction in the support of change.
“Tobacco Sales Prohibition and Teen Smoking” Nov., 2018. (with Reto Odermatt and Alois Stutzer)
We evaluate one of the most prevalent prohibitory policies: banning the sales of tobacco to teens. We exploit the staggered introduction of sales bans across Switzerland and the European Union from 1990 to 2016. The estimates indicate a less than 1 percentage point reduction in teen smoking because of the bans. The reduction is substantially lower than the 5 percentage point reduction expected by health officials. We examine additional outcomes relevant to assessing any prohibitory policy. We find that teens circumvent the bans through peers. Moreover, they consider smokers less cool but do not think smoking is more dangerous.
“Overstrained Citizens? The Number of Ballot Propositions and the Quality of the Decision Process in Direct Democracy ” Oct., 2018. (with Michael Baltensperger and Alois Stutzer)
We study how the number of ballot propositions affects the quality of decision making in direct democracy, as reflected in citizens’ knowledge, voting behavior, and attitudes toward democracy. Using three comprehensive data sets from Switzerland with over 3,500 propositions, we exploit variation in the number of federal propositions and plausibly exogenous variation in the number of cantonal propositions. Only with a relatively high number of propositions on the ballot do voters have less knowledge about federal propositions. Otherwise, we find no indication that the number of ballot propositions impedes the quality of decision making in direct democracy. For instance, a higher number of propositions does not lead more voters to support proposals endorsed by pole parties. If anything, having more federal propositions on the ballot relates to higher perceived political influence and satisfaction with democracy.
Selected Work in Progress
“Early Release and Recidivism.” (with Jonathan Levav and Stephan Meier)
“Causal Inference from Big Data as a Valuable Complement to Large-scale Clinical Trials.”
(with Devin Pope and Ziad Obermeyer)
“Limited Self–Control, Obesity and the Loss of Happiness.” Health Economics 25(11), 2016. (with Alois Stutzer)
Is obesity the consequence of an optimally chosen lifestyle or do people consume too much relative to their long-term preferences? The latter perspective accepts that people might face self-control problems when exposed to the immediate gratification from food. We exploit unique survey data for Switzerland in multinomial logit and ordered probit regressions to study (i) the covariates of obesity including indicators of self-control and (ii) the consequences of obesity on the subjective well-being of people with limited willpower. Our main finding is that obesity decreases the well-being of individuals who report having limited self-control, but not otherwise.