Giffen Behavior: Theory and Evidence
This paper provides the first real-world evidence of Giffen behavior, i.e., upward sloping demand. Subsidizing the prices of dietary staples for extremely poor households in two provinces of China, we find strong evidence of Giffen behavior for rice in Hunan, and weaker evidence for wheat in Gansu. The data provide new insight into the consumption behavior of the poor, who act as though maximizing utility subject to subsistence concerns, with both demand and calorie elasticities depending significantly, and non-linearly, on the severity of their poverty. Understanding this heterogeneity is important for the effective design of welfare programs for the poor.
We would like to thank Alberto Abadie, Chris Avery, Sebastian Bauhoff, Amitabh Chandra, Suzanne Cooper, Daniel Hojman, Brian Jacob, Elizabeth Lacey, Erzo Luttmer, Mai Nguyen, Albert Park, Rodrigo Wagner, Sangui Wang, and Richard Zeckhauser for valuable discussions, and Frank Mou, Dulles Wang and Fan Zhang for research assistance. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the National Institute of Aging, the William F. Milton Fund at Harvard Medical School, the Dean's Research Fund at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Center for International Development at Harvard University, and the Hefner China Fund. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Robert T. Jensen & Nolan H. Miller, 2008. "Giffen Behavior and Subsistence Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1553-77, September.