How are Preferences Revealed?

22 Pages Posted: 12 May 2008 Last revised: 10 Sep 2010

See all articles by John Beshears

John Beshears

Harvard University - Business School (HBS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James J. Choi

Yale School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

David Laibson

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Brigitte C. Madrian

Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 2008

Abstract

Revealed preferences are tastes that rationalize an economic agent's observed actions. Normative preferences represent the agent's actual interests. It sometimes makes sense to assume that revealed preferences are identical to normative preferences. But there are many cases where this assumption is violated. We identify five factors that increase the likelihood of a disparity between revealed preferences and normative preferences: passive choice, complexity, limited personal experience, third- party marketing, and intertemporal choice. We then discuss six approaches that jointly contribute to the identification of normative preferences: structural estimation, active decisions, asymptotic choice, aggregated revealed preferences, reported preferences, and informed preferences. Each of these approaches uses consumer behavior to infer some property of normative preferences without equating revealed and normative preferences. We illustrate these issues with evidence from savings and investment outcomes.

Suggested Citation

Beshears, John and Choi, James J. and Laibson, David I. and Madrian, Brigitte C., How are Preferences Revealed? (May 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w13976. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1131629

John Beshears

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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James J. Choi (Contact Author)

Yale School of Management ( email )

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
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David I. Laibson

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Room M-14
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-3402 (Phone)
617-495-8570 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Brigitte C. Madrian

Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business ( email )

Provo, UT 84602
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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