Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 437–452

The Persistent Impacts of Norm-Based Messaging and Their Implications for Water Conservation

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10603-014-9266-0

Cite this article as:
Bernedo, M., Ferraro, P.J. & Price, M. J Consum Policy (2014) 37: 437. doi:10.1007/s10603-014-9266-0


Although an increasing number of studies have demonstrated the short-term impacts of behavioral nudges to achieve public policy objectives, less is known about their longer-term impacts. In a randomized experimental design with over 100,000 households, we study the longer-term impacts of a one-time behavioral nudge that aimed to induce voluntary reductions in water use during a drought. Combining technical information, moral suasion, and social comparisons, the nudge has a surprisingly persistent effect. Although its effect size declines by almost 50% after 1 year, it remains detectable and policy-relevant six years later. In fact, the total reduction in water use achieved after the 4-month period targeted by the intervention is larger than the total reduction achieved during the target period. Further analysis suggests that the intervention works through both short-lived behavioral adjustments and longer-lived adjustments to habits or physical capital. Treatment effects are not detectable in homes from which the treated consumers have moved, which provides suggestive evidence that these longer-lived adjustments are mobile rather than incorporated into the housing stock. The persistence of the effect makes the intervention more cost-effective than previously assumed (cost drops by almost 60%). Nevertheless, water utilities may find this persistence undesirable if the nudges are intended to have only a short-run effect on demand during environmental emergencies.


Long-term impacts Behavioral channels Other regarding Pro-social Environmental policy Social norms 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • María Bernedo
    • 1
  • Paul J. Ferraro
    • 1
  • Michael Price
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy StudiesGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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