Coming in at a Trickle: The Optimal Frequency of Public Benefit Payments

58 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2019 Last revised: 26 Jun 2020

See all articles by Cameron LaPoint

Cameron LaPoint

Yale School of Management

Shogo Sakabe

Columbia University, Department of Economics

Date Written: October 11, 2019

Abstract

The question of how governments should choose the frequency of payments has received little attention in the literature on the optimal design of public benefits programs. We propose a simple model in which the government chooses the length of the interval between payments, subject to a tradeoff between the administrative cost of providing more frequent benefits and the welfare gain from reducing deviations from full consumption smoothing. In our empirical application, we examine consumer and retailer responses to bimonthly payments from the Japanese National Pension System. We exploit variation in the duration of payment cycles using a unique retail dataset that links consumers to their purchase history. Our difference-in-differences style approach shows a clear spike in spending on payment dates for customers who are of retirement age relative to those who are not. While within-store average prices increase by 1.6% on payday, this effect is almost entirely due to consumers substituting towards higher quality goods rather than a retailer response. We use these reduced form estimates to parameterize the model and conclude that the optimal frequency of Japanese public pension payments is less than one month, implying the government could improve welfare by increasing payment frequency.

Keywords: optimal payment frequency, pension payments, consumption smoothing, incidence, retail panel, store-level prices

JEL Classification: D03, D91, E21, H21, H55

Suggested Citation

LaPoint, Cameron and Sakabe, Shogo, Coming in at a Trickle: The Optimal Frequency of Public Benefit Payments (October 11, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3468318 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3468318

Cameron LaPoint (Contact Author)

Yale School of Management ( email )

165 Whitney Ave
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://som.yale.edu/faculty/cameron-lapoint

Shogo Sakabe

Columbia University, Department of Economics ( email )

420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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