Behavioral Economics, Development Economics, Experimental Methods
I am broadly interested in applied microeconomics. More specifically, I seek to understand how norms, behavioral biases, and contractual structures influence individual as well as group decision making and which consequences arise for institutional or product design. I am further interested in how insights from behavioral economics can help inform development economics.
I currently focus on behavioral aspects such as biases and norms in two fields: microfinance (savings, credit, reputational systems) and group interactions (communication, coordination and sanctions). In my studies, I use experimental methods ranging from the lab to the field to identify causal effects and I often complement these data with administrative and/or survey data.
Cash in Hand and Saving Decisions, preparing for submission; new draft coming soon
Cash is an important means of transaction, generally assumed to be fully fungible. However, both behavioral economics and consumer research have identified instances in which spending behavior is influenced by ‘cash in hand’. The process of physically holding on to cash and then handing it away, appears to affect purchasing decisions. This paper studies how cash in hand influences decisions in a different but very important domain: savings and in particular savings deposits. Savings accounts are a promising tool for reducing poverty, but the use of savings accounts is often puzzlingly low. Holding on to cash that needs to be physically deposited into a savings account may increase the psychological costs of saving. This study experimentally identifies the causal effect of cash in hand on savings deposits of a relevant and poor population, microfinance clients in the Philippines. In contrast to many laboratory and several field studies with similar interventions that investigate spending behavior, I do not find reduced savings deposits with cash in hand. Cash itself does not appear to distort savings decisions. I discuss reasons for and consequence of this surprising finding, in particular for developing economics where lots of transactions are still cash-based.
SABE/IAREP/Elsevier Best PhD Student Paper 2018
Joint-liability groups and rigid repayment schedules have long been considered essential for guaranteeing high repayment rates in microcredit lending, since they offer mutual insurance and keep repayment discipline high. Yet, both features have been criticized lately: rigid repayment schedules interfere with fluctuating incomes, and joint liability induces excessive peer pressure. We study whether the interaction of both flexible repayment features and joint-liability allows reaping the benefits of joint liability and flexibility – high repayment and shock coping capacity – while keeping their downsides – low repayment morale and excessive peer pressure – at bay. Using data from lab-in-the-field experiments with microcredit borrowers in the Philippines, we find that interacting joint liability with repayment flexibility enhances the responsible use of flexibility and reduces anti-social punishment.
Unethical behavior such as dishonesty, cheating and corruption occurs frequently in organizations or groups. Recent experimental evidence suggests that there is a stronger inclination to behave immorally in groups than individually. We ask if this is the case, and if so, why. Using a parsimonious laboratory setup, we study how individual behavior changes when deciding as a group member. We observe a strong dishonesty shift. This shift is mainly driven by communication within groups and turns out to be independent of whether group members face payoff commonality or not (i.e. whether other group members benefit from one’s lie). Group members come up with and exchange more arguments for being dishonest than for complying with the norm of honesty. Thereby, group membership shifts the perception of the validity of the honesty norm and of its distribution in the population.
Coverage (selected): International Business Times, Public Management (December 2017, p.19), Analytics Magazine, PsychCentral, ScienceDaily, Harvard Business Manager (January 2018, pp. 18-19, in German), WirtschaftsWoche (13/2018, pp.84-87, in German), Wirtschaftspsychologie aktuell (2/2018, pp.9-12, in German) Deutschlandfunk Nova (radio interview, in German), NZZ (in German), SZ (in German), Haufe (in German), Creditreform (in German), Informationsdienst Wissenschaft (in German), Welt kmpkt (in German), alltagsforschung.de (in German), Latest Thinking (interview with Simeon Schudy)
Work in Progress
We theoretically and experimentally study how the introduction of a credit registry affects investment and repayment decisions of borrowers. Information sharing between lenders can affect repayment rates via two mechanisms, i) better screening by lenders and ii) an additional incentive for borrowers to repay. In contrast to most previous studies, we can exclude selection effect and potential changes in the borrower pool and cleanly identify the incentive effect of information sharing on borrowers. We conduct an information campaign with 6,000 microfinance clients to exogenously vary the knowledge of the credit registry and possible consequences for borrowers. Our design allows identifying both the effects on ex-ante moral hazard (project and effort choice) and ex-post moral hazard (repayment performance).