Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries with a Consumer Credit Field Experiment

58 Pages Posted: 18 May 2005

See all articles by Dean S. Karlan

Dean S. Karlan

Yale University; Innovations for Poverty Action; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Jonathan Zinman

Dartmouth College; Innovations for Poverty Action; Jameel Poverty Action Lab; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 2005

Abstract

Information asymmetries are important in theory but difficult to identify in practice. We estimate the empirical importance of adverse selection and moral hazard in a consumer credit market using a new field experiment methodology. We randomized 58,000 direct mail offers issued by a major South African lender along three dimensions: 1) the initial offer interest rate appearing on direct mail solicitations; 2) a contract interest rate equal to or less than the offer interest rate and revealed to the over 4,000 borrowers who agreed to the initial offer rate; and 3) a dynamic repayment incentive that extends preferential pricing on future loans to borrowers who remain in good standing. These three randomizations, combined with complete knowledge of the Lender's information set, permit identification of specific types of private information problems. Specifically, our setup distinguishes adverse selection from moral hazard effects on repayment, and thereby generates unique evidence on the existence and magnitudes of specific credit market failures. We find evidence of both adverse selection (among women) and moral hazard (predominantly among men), and the findings suggest that about 20% of default is due to asymmetric information problems. This helps explain the prevalence of credit constraints even in a market that specializes in financing high-risk borrowers at very high rates.

Keywords: Information asymmetries, field experiment, adverse selection, moral hazard, development finance, credit markets, microfinance

JEL Classification: C9, D8, G2, G3, O1

Suggested Citation

Karlan, Dean S. and Zinman, Jonathan, Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries with a Consumer Credit Field Experiment (May 2005). Yale University Economic Growth Center Discussion Paper No. 911; Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 109. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=725563

Dean S. Karlan (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, CT 06520-8269
United States

Innovations for Poverty Action ( email )

1731 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor
New Haven, CT 20009
United States

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab ( email )

E60-246
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

Jonathan Zinman

Dartmouth College ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States
603-646-0075 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.dartmouth.edu/jzinman/

Innovations for Poverty Action

1731 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor
New Haven, CT 20009
United States

Jameel Poverty Action Lab

E60-246
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
362
rank
79,132
Abstract Views
2,635
PlumX Metrics