You are here


Essays on Decisions Involving Recurring Financial Events

Stephen Atlas, 2013
Faculty Advisor: Eric Johnson


This dissertation explores what influences consumer financial decisions with consequences that recur over time, such as mortgages and recurring payment plans in contracts. This dissertation investigates two questions: (1) How do individual differences in intertemporal preferences influence how consumers think about recurring financial events? (2) How does the aggregation level used to describe the recurring financial consequences impact how consumers mentally represent the purchase? Taken together, this dissertation explores how consumers mentally represent recurring outcomes and express these preferences through choice.

The first essay explores the relationship between individual differences in time preferences and decisions involving recurring payments in the domain of mortgage choices. It relates two components of an individual's time preference, a present bias (overvaluing immediate outcomes), and a personal discount rate (the exponential component of time preferences), to mortgage selection and the decision to strategically abandon a home worth less than its mortgage.

Combining insights from an analytic model and a survey of 244 mortgaged households augmented by zip-code market house price data, this essay proposes that consumers with greater present bias and exponential discounting are more likely to choose mortgages that minimize up-front costs and be underwater. This model also suggests that present bias decreases the likelihood of walking away, but that higher discounting increases that likelihood, a result consistent with the data. Time preferences remain robust predictors with individual and market-level controls, and alternate model specifications.

The second essay explores how the aggregation level of a recurring price (e.g. on a daily vs. a yearly basis) impacts how consumers mentally account for a contract's benefits. For example, if consumers are told the daily price of a car lease, they imagine the daily benefits of the car, and when they are told a monthly price they imagine their broader use of the car. This essay builds on the "pennies-a-day" model (Gourville 1998), which posits that narrowly framed recurring costs can increase a consumer's willingness to purchase by making the cost of a purchase seem trivial. The essay will present evidence that triviality is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for narrow framing to increase willingness to purchase and expand the domain of situations where such narrow framing increases purchase. Five web-based experiments suggest that scope insensitivity plays an important role in this effect since under recurring costs, consumers repeatedly "book" the most valued units, while under one-time costs consumers tend to experience less return to scale.

Together, the two essays suggest that contracts involving recurring financial events are mentally represented differently from those with one-time financial events, and that content is then discounted based on intertemporal preferences.

Download Dissertation

Application Deadlines

Master of Science in Marketing >

For Fall 2016 Entry:

Available: August 1st, 2015
Deadline: January 4th, 2016


Master of Science in Financial Economics >

For Fall 2016 Entry:

Available: August 1st, 2015
Deadline: January 4th, 2016


Master of Science in Management Science and Engineering >

For Fall 2016 Entry:
To be determined


Available 8/1/15
Sept 2016

Deadline: 01/05/16

MS Marketing
Deadline: 01/04/16

MS Financial Economics
Deadline: 01/04/16


Doctoral Program News

Young Alumni Balseiro wins George B. Dantzig Dissertation Award

At the 2014 Informs national meeting, Santiago Balseiro was honored for his work in "Competition and Yield Optimization in Ad Exchanges". We congratulate Santiago on his accomplishment.

Read More Here

Ethan Rouen wins Deloitte Doctoral Fellowship in Accounting

The Deloitte Foundation has awarded $25,000 grants to 10 top accounting Ph.D. candidates through the Deloitte Foundation’s annual Doctoral Fellowship program. Given to students who plan to pursue academic careers upon graduation, the award will support the 2015 recipients’ final year of coursework and the subsequent year to complete their doctoral dissertation.

Read More Here

Honigsberg featured in Ideas at Work

The August issue of Ideas at Work features research that doctoral candidate Colleen Honigsberg led in conjunction with Sharon Katz.

Read More about Colleen

Wazlawek featured in Ideas at Work

Abbie Wazlawek's joint research with Professor Daniel Ames is featured in the June 24th, 2014 edition of Ideas at Work

Read More about Abbie

Ethan Rouen featured in Ideas at Work

Ethan Rouen's joint research with Professor Dan Amiram is featured in the May 15th, 2014 edition of Ideas at Work

Read More about Abbie

Rivas Wins Fellowship

The PhD program is proud to congratulate Miguel Duro Rivas, who was awarded the Nasdaq Educational Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

Read More about Miguel

Wong wins Deloitte Fellowship

We are proud to announce that Yu Ting (Forester) Wong is one of the recipients of the 2014 Deloitte Foundation Doctoral Fellowship in Accounting.

Read More About Yu Ting >

The PhD Program Congratulates John Yao

PhD student John Yao was a finalist in the 2013 M&SOM (Manufacturing & Service Operations Management) student paper competition.

Read More About John >

Honigsberg Named Postdoctoral Fellow

The PhD program is proud to congratulate Colleen Honigsberg, who was named the Postdoctoral Fellow in Corporate Governance at the Millstein Center at Columbia Law School in October 2013

Read More about Colleen >


Check Application Status

Students listening to classroom lecture

Once you've submitted your application, you can login and track your status by using the link below.

Check Status