Martin Eichenbaum, Miguel Godinho de Matos, Francisco Lima, Sérgio Rebelo, Mathias Trabandt, 14 November 2020

A central question in economics is how people respond to risk – specifically, how they respond to low-probability events. This column uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a natural experiment to answer this question. Studying the consumption behaviour of Portuguese public sector workers, whose income was likely unaffected by the crisis, they find that older workers reduced their consumption of high-contact goods by much more than younger workers.  As the likelihood for dying from COVID-19 is increasing in age, these results suggest that workers’ responses are commensurate with the risk they face.

Laura Straeter, Jessica Exton, 13 November 2020

Sharing is an ancient, universal practice in which people grant others temporary access to their possessions. This column questions whether a ‘sharing economy’ would be sustainable in practice. Online experiments involving over 400 adults in the US revealed that products shared with other people are disposed of earlier, irrespective of the frequency of use. Though consumer-to-consumer sharing has immediate environmental benefits through, for example, decreases in the use of raw production materials, its long-term benefits appear limited.   

Martin O'Connell, Áureo De Paula, Kate Smith, 04 November 2020

The first wave of COVID-19 infections led to widespread stories of shortages in grocery stores as consumers stocked up in anticipation of lockdowns. This column summarises findings, based on household scanner data from the UK, on the extent of consumer hoarding during the first phase of the pandemic. It shows that there were large spikes in demand for storable goods, and this was mainly driven by many households purchasing these goods more frequently. 

Thiess Buettner, Boryana Madzharova, 27 October 2020

Facing the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments all over the world are considering providing a fiscal stimulus. A potentially powerful instrument to do so is a broad-based consumption tax such as VAT. This column argues that changes in VAT may have some effect in stimulating spending on certain consumer durable goods such as household appliances. However, these effects may be heterogenous across different product types and the timing and perceived credibility of the announcements are also important factors for policymakers to consider.

Marit Hinnosaar, Elaine Liu, 18 October 2020

Alcohol is one of the leading killers among substances, but little is known how various factors interact to affect individual alcohol consumption. This column explores how much the environment –, including supply conditions, alcohol regulation, taxes, and peers – drives alcohol consumption, by analysing changes in alcohol purchases when US consumers move from one state to another. The current environment explains about two-thirds of the differences in alcohol purchases, with consumers’ alcohol purchases converging sharply toward the average purchase level in their destination state right after moving.

David Argente, Chang-Tai Hsieh, Munseob Lee, 13 September 2020

Cross-country price indexes are an essential tool for comparing living standards in different countries. But those indexes are constructed from data that does not always account for heterogeneity in shopping behaviour, the uneven quality of products, and variety availability. This column compares barcode-level data on prices and quantities for consumer packaged goods in the US and Mexico, and finds that Mexican real consumption relative to the US is larger than previously estimated. It highlights the importance of addressing sampling, quality, and variety biases in international price comparisons.

Gabriel Felbermayr, Jasmin Gröschl, Inga Heiland, 06 September 2020

Rising anti-European sentiments over the past decade have prompted economists to assess the economic consequences of undoing Europe. Focusing on trade, this column uses a state-of-the-art sector-level gravity model to estimate the cost savings achieved through each individual step of integration and then simulate the economic consequences of reversing those steps. The results suggest that if all steps were to be reversed, EU manufacturing exports would drop by 26% and services exports by 12%. A complete breakdown of the EU would also generate significant real consumption losses for all EU members, with small open economies and younger and poorer EU members from central and Eastern Europe having the most to lose.

Thorsten Beck, Mohammad Hoseini, 28 August 2020

The high degree of informality in developing countries means most low-income workers have not been able to work from home during the Covid crisis or benefit from employment protection. Despite limited fiscal space and limited access to international financial markets, many developing country governments have implemented support programmes for households and firms. This column assesses the impact of an emergency household loan programme in Iran on consumption. It finds that the loans are positively related with higher consumption of non-durable and semi-durable goods, with no significant effect on the consumption of durables or asset purchases, suggesting that the emergency loans were predominantly used for their intended purpose.

Xavier Jaravel, Martin O'Connell, 26 July 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in large shocks to both demand and supply, which conceivably could result in deflation, disinflation, or higher inflation. This column summarises findings, based on real-time scanner data in UK, on inflation among fast-moving consumer goods during the pandemic. It shows that at the beginning of lockdown there was a sharp upturn in inflation and a significant fall in product variety.

Scott Baker, R.A. Farrokhnia, Michaela Pagel, Steffen Meyer, Constantine Yannelis, 17 June 2020

After a steep decline in spending, US households responded rapidly to the receipt of COVID-19 stimulus payments. Still, relative to similar programs in 2001 and 2008, spending on durables decreased. This column uses high-frequency transaction data to analyse consumption responses to shelter-in-place orders and government-issued stimulus checks across income levels and locations. It shows that larger increases in spending on food and payments – from credit cards to rents and mortgages – reflect a short-term debt overhang and suggest that direct payments failed to stimulate aggregate consumption.

Christos Makridis, Tao Wang, 03 June 2020

Aggregate consumption has seen an unprecedented drop as a consequence of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns. Rather than focus on ways that specific policies or the spread of the virus have altered consumption patterns during the pandemic, this column explores the impact of social networks. Combining card transaction data with indices of social connectedness from Facebook shows that a 10% increase of infections in socially connected counties is associated with a 0.64% decline in local consumption expenditures, suggesting that social networks can sharply amplify the effects of an underlying shock.

Asger Lau Andersen, Emil Toft Hansen, Niels Johannesen, Adam Sheridan, 15 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had drastic effects on consumer spending across the world. This column presents evidence based on bank account transaction data from Denmark showing that total card spending was reduced by 25% during the early phase of the crisis. The drop was mostly concentrated on goods and services whose supply is directly restricted by government interventions, suggesting a limited role for spillovers to non-restricted sectors through demand in the short term.

Dimitris K. Chronopoulos, Marcel Lukas, John O.S. Wilson, 06 May 2020

Since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in January 2020, the UK government has introduced successive public health measures, culminating in late March 2020 with enforced closures of non-essential businesses and social distancing. These measures are significantly affecting UK household incomes and expenditures. This column exploits a large anonymised transaction-level dataset covering Great Britain to examine real-time consumer spending responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and related public policy measures. While there are differences by age, gender, and income level, overall consumer spending declined as the government lockdown becames imminent and has continued to decline since.

John Muellbauer, 11 April 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered unprecedented shocks to both supply and demand, raising important questions about the impact on US consumer spending. In the US, consumption comprised as much as 70% of GDP in 2019. Typically, consumption is less volatile than income. But as this column argues, it is now likely to fall even more than household income. One reason is that part of the negative shock originates in disruption to consumption itself. Another comes from the jump in income insecurity as reflected in an unprecedented rise in the unemployment rate. Other reasons include the fall in asset prices and a sharp contraction in credit availability. A plausible scenario from the analysis suggests that US real consumer spending in the second quarter of 2020 could fall by around 20%, if household labour income falls by 16%.

Martin Blomhoff Holm, Pascal Paul, Andreas Tischbirek, 31 March 2020

Empirical evaluations of monetary policy have traditionally focused on the responses of macroeconomic aggregates. Instead, this column uses detailed administrative data from Norway to uncover substantial heterogeneity in the effects of monetary policy at the household level. The authors find that not only low-liquidity households but also high-liquidity ones show strong responses. Interest rate changes faced by borrowers and savers feed into consumption, and indirect effects of monetary policy are sizable, but occur with a delay. While the results confirm several predictions of recent heterogeneous-agent New Keynesian models, they also provide new challenges.

Henrik Yde Andersen, Søren Leth-Petersen, 20 December 2019

House prices and aggregate spending move together, but little is known about the underlying mechanism linking the two. This column introduces a test to discriminate between the housing wealth effect hypothesis, which says that homeowners consider home value changes as windfalls, and the collateral effect hypothesis, which says that a home value increase generates additional collateral that can be borrowed against. Homeowner behaviour in response to home value rises when they are close to their collateral borrowing constraint, suggesting that the collateral effect is important for explaining the link between house prices and spending. 

Scott Baker, Lorenz Kueng, Leslie McGranahan, Brian T. Melzer, 30 January 2019

During and after the Global Crisis, economists and policymakers proposed a commitment to increase consumption taxes in the future as a way to shift consumption to the present. This column tests the impact of this unconventional fiscal policy using data on car sales. It finds that households respond dramatically to planned tax increases, but this depends on them having access to credit so they can bring forward their spending.

Daniel Hamermesh, Jeff Biddle, 26 January 2019

People combine goods and time in household production, and theory suggests that as their wage rates rise, they will substitute goods-intensive for time-intensive activities. However, it is not clear how activities that take essentially no, or minimal, amounts of spending, such as sleeping or watching TV, fit into the theory. This column uses data from time diaries for the US, France, and Germany to demonstrate that not all non-work time is the same, and different components of non-work time respond differently to changing incentives.

Jeehoon Han, Bruce Meyer, James Sullivan, 10 January 2019

Economic wellbeing depends on the consumption of not just goods and services, but also the consumption of time. This column looks at leisure and consumption together for the same families by imputing the amount of leisure families consume in the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and finds a negative relationship between consumption and leisure. Accounting for both leisure and consumption implies somewhat less inequality in society, and suggests that social welfare policies and the business cycle can alter the economic wellbeing of families by both altering resources consumed and through their effect on leisure.

Diane Coyle, 21 August 2018

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