Harnessing naturally occurring data to measure the response of spending to income

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Science  11 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6193, pp. 212-215
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247727

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Balancing your incomings and outgoings

Economic theory predicts that when someone receives money should have little effect on their spending patterns. Gelman et al. constructed a data set of 60 million transactions made by 75,000 people to test this theory. People do seem to go on a mini–spending spree after they get their paychecks or pensions. However, closer inspection reveals that that's mostly explained by the convenience of linking regular payments, such as rent and utilities, to regular income. Unsurprisingly, cash-strapped people are more likely to increase their spending in response to receiving income.

Science, this issue p. 212


This paper presents a new data infrastructure for measuring economic activity. The infrastructure records transactions and account balances, yielding measurements with scope and accuracy that have little precedent in economics. The data are drawn from a diverse population that overrepresents males and younger adults but contains large numbers of underrepresented groups. The data infrastructure permits evaluation of a benchmark theory in economics that predicts that individuals should use a combination of cash management, saving, and borrowing to make the timing of income irrelevant for the timing of spending. As in previous studies and in contrast to the predictions of the theory, there is a response of spending to the arrival of anticipated income. The data also show, however, that this apparent excess sensitivity of spending results largely from the coincident timing of regular income and regular spending. The remaining excess sensitivity is concentrated among individuals with less liquidity.

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