Individual Laboratory-Measured Discount Rates Predict Field Behavior

Christopher F. Chabris, David Laibson, Carrie L. Morris, Jonathon P. Schuldt, Dmitry Taubinsky

NBER Working Paper No. 14270
Issued in August 2008
NBER Program(s):Aging, Health Economics

We estimate discount rates of 555 subjects using a laboratory task and find that these individual discount rates predict inter-individual variation in field behaviors (e.g., exercise, BMI, smoking). The correlation between the discount rate and each field behavior is small: none exceeds 0.28 and many are near 0. However, the discount rate has at least as much predictive power as any variable in our dataset (e.g., sex, age, education). The correlation between the discount rate and field behavior rises when field behaviors are aggregated: these correlations range from 0.09-0.38. We present a model that explains why specific intertemporal choice behaviors are only weakly correlated with discount rates, even though discount rates robustly predict aggregates of intertemporal decisions.

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A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the 2008 number 3 issue of the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health. You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14270

Published: Christopher Chabris & David Laibson & Carrie Morris & Jonathon Schuldt & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2008. "Individual laboratory-measured discount rates predict field behavior," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 237-269, December. citation courtesy of

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