Spousal influence and assortative mating on time preferences: a field experiment in the USA

  • Matthew GnageyEmail author
  • Therese Grijalva
  • Rong Rong


Households make economic tradeoffs over time. We seek to understand how a spouse’s individual time preference influences joint household decisions. We conduct a field experiment with 94 pairs of couples in the United States. Each subject makes a series of choices between payoffs received at two different times for oneself and then jointly with their spouse as a household. Results from our sample indicate that husbands do not have more influence than their wives do on the joint decision. This finding differs from previous conclusions drawn from data collected in developing countries. We further find that differences in education, age, and earned income do not provide spouses with additional bargaining power. However, the relative power shifts based on individual preferences related to patience, savings, risk tolerance, and which spouse controls the household income. Lastly, our data supports assortative mating based on time preferences, but we do not find evidence supportive of spousal socialization, spousal selection, or changing matching patterns on time preferences.


Time preference Spousal influence Intra-household decision making Field experiment Convex time budget 

JEL classification

C93 D10 D91 



We gratefully acknowledge the research assistance from Ming Ge and financial support from the Hemingway New Faculty Grant at Weber State University. We thank Greg Howard, David Huffman, Lucas Rentchler, Alistair Wilson and seminar participants at University of Pittsburgh summer research seminar for helpful comments. All errors here in are our own.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsWeber State UniversityOgdenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Resource EconomicsUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA

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