Do people really even know what they want(ed)?

We examine the stability of preferences over time using panel data from Kenya on fertility intentions,realizations, and recall of intentions. We find that desired fertility is very unstable, but that most people perceive their desires to be stable. Under hypothetical scenarios, few expect their desired fertility to increase over time. Moreover, when asked to recall past intentions, most respondents report previously wanting exactly as many children as they desire today. Biased recall of preferences over a major life decision could have important implications for measuring excess fertility, the evolution of norms,and the perceived need for family planning programs.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Maximilian W. Mueller, Joan Hamory Hicks, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, and Edward Miguel.

Comments

"Moreover, when asked to recall past intentions, most respondents report previously wanting exactly as many children as they desire today"

That sounds like the key to happiness on any dimension: believe that you've always wanted whatever you've got at the moment.

That is not a very useful approach though when you are trying to decide between two options as to which one will make you happier (or less miserable), since it implies that you will be equal satisfied whichever one you take thanks to your powers of rationalization.

I'm happy with that.

Respond

Add Comment

It's a perfectly useful approach. They are not deciding among getting eaten by a tiger or winning a million dollars. The difference between having 3 kids and 4 kids isn't going to be a choice between life long happiness or misery.

People that dwell on the past, and worry about minor previous events are making themselves unhappy. A little self delusion is far better than a painful continuous self reflection.

Did Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory strike you as the happiest person in the group?

Respond

Add Comment

"What a mine they've dug there! And they're making the most of it! Yes, they are making the most of it! They've wept over it and grown used to it. Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!"

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

For further context:

"Third, we document that very few women are able to recall past desired fertility from three years ago: only 31% correctly recall past desires, and just 9% among those who have changed their stated desired fertility. Instead, most believe they desired the exact same number of children 3 years ago as today."

This is not at all surprising. Translation: If one previously stated she wanted 2 children and unexpectedly had a third, one's stated and recalled preference changes to three. How many people do you know who, after a child has been born, thinks, much less admits, "I didn't want that child"? (This is probably the strongest argument against abortion). Conversely, I imagine, if someone had previously stated she wanted 3 children and was only able to have 2, admitting the prior preference would be tantamount to admitting failure.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Like the Republican party with Trump.

Hi, mouse!

Respond

Add Comment

A little self delusion is probably a good thing.

"I Am Very Insightful" ... but this goes far beyond a little self delusion.

Respond

Add Comment

Talk about stable preferences.

Donald Trump has the power to

Bend spoons with his mind and

Change the Republican Party.

Trump was a bad candidate. He won't be a good candidate this time around. He won't be able to beat a good Democratic candidate. Of course, predictit.org currently has Trump with the highest odds of winning. Granted, it's still under 50%. 2020 will be an interesting year.

+1

It looked like the democrats were self-destructing, but the rise of Biden may prove that not to be the case. It's not clear to me that the answer is Biden, but the receptivity of the party to Biden is a positive sign.

Biden doesn't manage to be more extreme than Trump. That makes him the best significant Democratic candidate so far.

Both those dudes are so f**king old. Will the Boomers ever go away?

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Trump was an absolutely terrible candidate. Clinton managed to be worse.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_you_are_always_changing

Respond

Add Comment

You policy nerds forget how real human beings work. They don't do family planning programs or look at charts showing total fertility rates when they want to make babies. Do you all have lobotomies as children or is there some genetic defect that makes you socially retarded? There are members of the greater primate family that excel at flinging poo which are much closer to real actual homo sapiens than you neurotards turning everything into a utility function believing that money is the only reason to get up in the morning. And it must have scrambled your eggheads real good when Trump got elected.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Twenty-two (and counting) Dem presidential wannabes know.

Respond

Add Comment

" you neurotards turning everything into a utility function believing that money is the only reason to get up in the morning"

I wish your were right, Biffy, but most people I know don't like, or are at best indifferent to their jobs, yet they continue to get up in the morning to go to them. And at least past your 20s, most major life decisions seem to revolve around whether you have enough money to do it, and if not, can you save or invest or switch jobs or otherwise swing enough income to make possible what you'd like to do.

Respond

Add Comment

ITT, stupid people raging at smart people for the sin of being smart.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

So, this from the PDF - 'Using a rich longitudinal data set on young Kenyan adults with up to 9 years of information.'

Wow - up to nine years! No wonder this research was highlighted here, based on such an amazing set of data. And sad to say, I liberated the study after a couple of more pages - why, many women between the ages of 18 and 28 actually change their minds or have no particular need to be be consistent (or even remember whatever answer they gave previously), hard as that might be to imagine.

Good observation. Amazingly bad soft science study. It's almost like if they asked "Do you want to be somebody else or are you happy the way you are?" Most people who are well-adjusted and having a good day (that's not you, BD) would answer "happy as is", which is simply a form of immediacy bias. Immediacy bias is the basis for this 'finding' as well.

You misunderstand. They mean more children than they wanted previously not more than they have

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

It's almost as if the paper is saying humans aren't reliable witnesses to their own internal workings and have biases that make studies based on self-reports useless.

If true, this paper is a paradigm shifter. Get the Nobel ready.

And yet, the study is built on self-reports. Almost as profound as bootstrapping in statistics, where the same data is used to generate more data. What is the formal name for the Nobel Prize in Sociology?

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

It's almost as if the paper is saying humans aren't reliable witnesses to their own internal workings and have biases that make studies based on self-reports useless.

If true, this paper is a paradigm shifter. Get the Nobel ready.

Seriously, though. Are all economists on the autism spectrum, or do they just act that was because it's a professional norm?

Respond

Add Comment

Two quotes from the article:

"...most respondents report previously wanting exactly as many children as they desire today."

"For a small number of negative scenarios such as difficult pregnancies or worsening finances, sizeable shares suggest they would prefer fewer children. Opting to want more children is quite rare, and never a majority response to any scenario posed."

Wait a min. The median age of the surveyed people is between 18 and 28 years old. How is it possible that this people don't want to have more children? The article says opting to have more children is quite rare.....this would be an anomaly in any country around the world for people 18-28 YO, even in countries with low fertility rate.

"How is it possible that this people don't want to have more children?"

Maybe they're smart enough to realize what a horrible decision having children is.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

revealed preference

Respond

Add Comment

Do people really even know what they want
its tuesday
we are thinking waffles!

Respond

Add Comment

>Under hypothetical scenarios, few expect their desired fertility to increase over time.

Oddly enough, I would have predicted the result. It seems like every couple I've known wanted a bunch of children in the beginning (perhaps not right away), then eventually shift to 'what I have now is plenty.'

I suspect it's a combo of age and fatigue.

Respond

Add Comment

It’s my mother in law... I’m content with 7 children but she wants us to have more.

I’m like, when we move to Minnesota, how are we going to get 7 snow parkas?

Respond

Add Comment

The truth, how Red China plans to destroy America: https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/3010876/us-will-lose-badly-trade-war-china-and-imperil-world?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=email&utm_content=190521&utm_campaign=GME-O-enlz-TradeWar&MCUID=ec017d063f&MCCampaignID=fa2a0bcbf2&MCAccountID=7b1e9e7f8075914aba9cff17f .

Respond

Add Comment

People don't know that they don't know what they want? I suppose this is a specific variation that people don't know what they don't know. It's true, people only know what they know when they know it. Tomorrow people may know something different and forget what they knew yesterday. How will they know it today if they didn't know it yesterday and didn't know that they didn't know it yesterday? I suppose it's because what they know today they assume they knew yesterday even though they didn't know it yesterday. On the specific subject of fertility (i.e., sex), people know what they want when they want it but may not want tomorrow what they wanted yesterday. We've all been there, even if we don't know it.

Respond

Add Comment

Frank Knight said

"Life is at bottom an exploration in the field of values, an attempt to discover values, rather than on the basis of knowledge of them to produce and enjoy them to the greatest possible extent. We strive to 'know ourselves,' to find our real wants, more than to get what we want"

Respond

Add Comment

Should've titled it: "Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past preferences"

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment