Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Human capital investment by the poor: Informing policy with laboratory experiments

Eckel, Catherine and Johnson, Cathleen and Montmarquette, Claude (2012): Human capital investment by the poor: Informing policy with laboratory experiments. Forthcoming in: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization

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Abstract

The purpose of the study is to better understand human capital investment decisions of the working poor, and to collect information that can be used to design a policy to induce the poor to invest in human capital. We use laboratory experimental methodology to elicit the preferences and observe the choices of the target population of a proposed government policy. We recruited 256 subjects in Montreal, Canada; 72 percent had income below 120 percent of the Canadian poverty level. The combination of survey measures and actual decisions allows us to better understand individual heterogeneity in responses to different subsidy levels. In particular, participants chose between various cash alternatives and educational subsidies, for themselves and for a family member, allowing for the construction of two measures of willingness to invest in education. Two behavioral characteristics, patience and attitude towards risk, are key to understanding the determinants of educational investment for the low-income individuals in this experiment. The decision to save for a family member’s education is somewhat different from that of investing in one’s own education. Patient participants were more likely to save for a family member’s education, but in contrast to investing in one’s own education, a subject’s attitude towards risk played no role.

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