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

Josephine Duh, Dean Spears, 16 July 2018

Although average wealth in India has risen in recent years, calorie consumption has paradoxically fallen. Josephine Duh and Dean Spears explain that Indians are eating less despite being richer because disease rates are slowly declining, meaning that nutrition from food is extracted more efficiently.

Sumit Agarwal, J. Bradford Jensen, Ferdinando Monte, 18 July 2018

Although the internet has greatly reduced the travel frictions that consumers face, for many goods and services, consumers’ willingness to travel is still a key factor influencing firms’ decisions. This column explores consumer mobility and purchases using credit card transaction data. Predictably, consumers travel further for more durable and less frequently consumed goods. The results suggest that consumer mobility may be relevant at the individual level and in the formation of local equilibrium outcomes.

Thomas Cooley, Espen Henriksen, 11 June 2018

Demographic change represents an important contributing factor to the slowdown of long-run growth. This column explores some of the channels through which this occurs and how the effects of demographic change can be mitigated. Policies that target consumption-saving choices, labour-leisure choices, and human capital accumulation over the lifecycle are likely to be most effective.

Arna Olafsson, Michaela Pagel, 07 June 2018

A large literature analyses whether individuals save adequately for retirement and plan properly. This column uses a detailed panel of individual spending, income, account balances, and credit limits from a personal finance management software provider to investigate how expenditures, liquid savings, and consumer debt change around retirement. It finds that, upon retirement, individuals reduce their spending in both work-related and leisure categories. In addition, individuals reduce their consumer debt and increase their liquid savings, which is inconsistent with existing models of insufficient planning. 

Michalis Haliassos, Vimal Balasubramaniam, 01 June 2018

The Third CEPR European Workshop on Household Finance took place on 11 and 12 May in London. This column describes the papers that were presented at the workshop.

Ross Warwick, 29 May 2018

Similarly to advanced economies, developing countries often subsidise VAT rates on food and other basic goods and services. Ross Warwick discusses his research at the IFS, which suggests these subsidies may in fact disdvantage the poorest, because the subsidised goods and services are consumed disproportionately more by richer households.

Rachel Griffith, 02 May 2018

The UK recently introduced a 'soda tax' - a tax on the consumption of drinks with added sugar. Rachel Griffith discusses the effectiveness of such measures in reducing the consumption of sugar among children. This video was recorded at the 2018 RES Conference.

Jonas Kolsrud, Camille Landais, Johannes Spinnewijn, 04 April 2018

Household consumption is central to economic and welfare analysis, but it remains difficult to fully measure at an empirical level. Using evidence from Sweden, this column argues the case for using registry-based data to estimate consumption expenditures, particularly at the tails of income distributions. It also argues that previous suggestions that recent rises in income inequality haven’t been matched by rises in consumption inequality may be misguided.

Gauti Eggertsson, Ragnar Juelsrud, Ella Getz Wold, 31 January 2018

Economists disagree on the macroeconomic role of negative interest rates. This column describes how, due to an apparent zero lower bound on deposit rates, negative policy rates have so far had very limited impact on the deposit rates faced by households and firms, and this lower bound on the deposit rate seems to be causing a decline in pass-through to lending rates as well. Negative interest rates thus appear ineffective in stimulating aggregate demand.

Bruce Meyer, James Sullivan, 15 January 2018

Concerns about rising inequality inform important debates on some of our most significant policy issues, but the debate over inequality relies almost exclusively on income data. This column argues that consumption data show how changes in inequality in economic wellbeing are more nuanced than a simple story of rising dispersion throughout the distribution. In the bottom half of the distribution there is little evidence rising consumption inequality, and in the top half of the distribution the rise in consumption inequality has been much more modest than the rise in income inequality, particularly since 2000. 

Masayuki Morikawa, 21 October 2017

Studies predicting a substantial impact of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games on the Japanese economy have tended to overlook substitution effects in spending as well as the characteristics of those who are expected to increase their spending. This column uses a survey of 10,000 consumers across Japan to examine the net impact on consumer spending. While the majority expect no significant change in their consumption expenditures, a greater share of respondents expect a net increase than a net decrease. In general, people in their 20s and 30s, high-income earners, those with higher educational attainment, and households with at least one pre-school child expect a net increase in consumption expenditures.

Donald R. Davis, Jonathan Dingel, Joan Monras, Eduardo Morales, 24 October 2017

Smart devices and online activity generate a stream of data describing human behaviour in great detail. Social scientists can tap such data to examine previously unexplored topics. This column uses online restaurant reviews to measure consumption segregation. In New York City, restaurant consumption is considerably more racially integrated than residences. A substantial share of consumption segregation is attributable to the fact that consumers are less likely to visit restaurants in neighbourhoods with demographics unlike their own.

Benjamin Faber, Thibault Fally, 02 August 2017

A recent literature has documented the impact of firm heterogeneity on workers’ earnings. This column assesses firm heterogeneity in the context of its impact on households’ cost of living. Rich and poor households source their consumption differently, and are therefore impacted differently by asymmetries in heterogeneous firms. An analysis suggests that moderate trade liberalisation could lead to a 1.5-2.5% lower cost-of-living inflation in retail consumption for the richest 20% of US households compared to the poorest 20%.

Peter Bofinger, Mathias Ries, 29 July 2017

There is a broad consensus that the global decline in real interest rates can be explained with a higher propensity to save, above all due to demographic reasons. This column argues that this view relies on a commodity theory of finance, which is inadequate for analysis of real world phenomena. In a monetary theory of finance, household saving does not release funds for investment, it simply redistributes existing funds. In addition, the column shows that at the global level, the gross household saving rate has declined since the 1980s, as well as net saving rates.

David Autor, 21 July 2017

How did trade with China disrupt production and consumption in the US? David Autor discusses what could have happened to consumer prices and the manufacturing sector. This video was recorded at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in June 2017. The full lecture can be watched here.

Christiane Baumeister, Lutz Kilian, 18 May 2017

The sluggish growth of the US economy after the 2014-2016 decline in the oil price surprised many economists. This column argues that it should have been expected. The modest stimulus to private consumption and non-oil business investment was largely offset by a large decline in investment by the oil sector. Growth was further slowed by a simultaneous global economic slowdown, reflected in lower US exports. 

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