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The globalizability of temporal discounting

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Economic inequality is associated with preferences for smaller, immediate gains over larger, delayed ones. Such temporal discounting may feed into rising global inequality, yet it is unclear whether it is a function of choice preferences or norms, or rather the absence of sufficient resources for immediate needs. It is also not clear whether these reflect true differences in choice patterns between income groups. We tested temporal discounting and five intertemporal choice anomalies using local currencies and value standards in 61 countries (N = 13,629). Across a diverse sample, we found consistent, robust rates of choice anomalies. Lower-income groups were not significantly different, but economic inequality and broader financial circumstances were clearly correlated with population choice patterns.


Acknowledgements: The authors received no specific funding for this work. A small amount of discretionary funding provided by K.R.’s institution paid for the pilot study participants and for honoraria to organizations that assisted with data collection in several locations. These were provided by Columbia University Undergraduate Global Engagement and the Department of Health Policy and Management. Funds to support open-access publication were provided by the MRC-CBU at the University of Cambridge through a UKRI grant (UKRI-MRC grant no. MC_UU_00005/6). None of these funders had any role in or influence over design, data collection, analysis or interpretation. All collaborators contributed in a voluntary capacity. We thank the Columbia University Office for Undergraduate Global Engagement. We also thank X. Li and L. Njozela, as well as the Centre for Business Research in the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.


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Nature Human Behaviour

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Nature Publishing Group UK