Measuring Time Preferences in Large Surveys

54 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2019

See all articles by Michael M. Bechtel

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Amalie Sofie Jensen

University of Copenhagen, Department of Economics, Students

Kenneth Scheve

Stanford University

Date Written: July 3, 2019


Time preferences promise to explain a wide range of political behaviors and opinions related to dynamic policy problems because such policies entail costs and benefits that will be realized in the distant future. However, mass publics may discount these costs and benefits because they are later or because they are more uncertain. Standard methods to elicit individual-level time preferences tend to conflate attitudes toward risk and attitudes toward time. In addition, the widely used stated-preference measure of time discounting may be susceptible to social desirability bias. A recently proposed solution to these problems relies on a costly lab-experimental method, convex time budgets (CTB). We present and validate an affordable version of this approach for implementation in mass surveys. We find that neither the stated-preference nor the commonly used staircase technique yield estimates that correlate strongly with the theoretically preferred CTB patience measure. We document that patience is increasing in education, income, female gender identity, and left ideology. Finally, we show that although individual time horizons predict opposition to delayed public investment decisions, the importance of patience for predicting attitudes toward many, more complex, future-oriented policies such as climate action appears weaker than is often claimed.

Keywords: Mass Surveys, Time Preferences, Discounting, Patience, Public Opinion, Long-term Policy, Climate Action, Convex Time Budgets, Experiments, Representative Samples

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Jensen, Amalie Sofie and Scheve, Kenneth F., Measuring Time Preferences in Large Surveys (July 3, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Amalie Sofie Jensen

University of Copenhagen, Department of Economics, Students ( email )


Kenneth F. Scheve

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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