Who Is Consistent?

Young rich well-educated men make more consistent choices. Family structure, risk tolerance and personality type don’t matter:

We conduct a large-scale field experiment … to test subjects choices for consistency with utility maximization. … High-income and high-education subjects display greater levels of consistency …, men are more consistent than women, and young subjects are more consistent than older subjects. We also find that consistency with utility maximization is strongly related to wealth: a standard deviation increase in the consistency score is associated with 15-19 percent more wealth. This result conditions on socioeconomic variables including current income, education, and family structure, and is little changed when we add controls for past income, risk tolerance and the results of a standard personality test used by psychologists. (more)

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  • jb

    I remember when I was younger, I felt very strongly about being consistent, philosophically, politically, etc. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see that some of that desire for consistency was conceit – attempting to force a simple model of my preference onto a complicated world.

    • John

      You just described my life story as well.

    • B

      Sounds like you were working from a lousy model.

    • MMX

      Definitely agree with you. As I get older, I appreciate the uniqueness of both relationships and individuals, and try to cater a personal solution to every problem I encounter. When I was younger, I couldn’t do that.

    • http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~criedel/ Jess Riedel

      I agree that part of the attraction of consistency is that it allows you to believe that your model/philosophy is right, since consistency is a necessary condition, and apparently the only objective criterion we have. And I agree it’s better to be inconsistent but mostly right than to be totally consistent with a wrong model/philosophy.

      But don’t forget that consistency really is a necessary condition. If one lives knowingly inconsistently, one is doing something wrong. The attitude that consistency is some sort of balm for the naive (“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”) seems to me most associated with people who are interested in putting other people down rather than seeking truth.

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y
  • hamilton

    These types of people are more consistent. Lovely. What I’d really like to know is whether those who meet these “high quality” decision metrics indeed earn more on average.

  • http://webtrough.wordpress.com DW

    So does income and education come from being consistent or vice versa?

    • http://www.gwern.net/Bitcoin%20is%20Worse%20is%20Better gwern

      Why can’t it be both? If the norms of homo economicus are worth a damn, following them should make one wealthier than one was before; but poverty also saps willpower and makes one risk-averse (see http://www.tnr.com/article/environment-energy/89377/poverty-escape-psychology-self-control – the linked papers are also worth reading) so becoming wealthier makes one more consistent/rational.

  • http://www.marketingeconomist.com Peter St. Onge

    Can’t click through the (more) link so I’m not clear the assertion. Consistency with u-max, or consistency among behaviors? I think most commentators are understanding as consistency among behaviors.

    If u-max, the post shouldn’t be “who is consistent” rather “who makes smart choices,” no? In which case the demographic and wealth correlates are unremarkable.

    • MMX

      I’m sorry my earlier comment confused you.

      The paper describes “consistency with u-max” not “consistency among behaviors”.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Hanson told people to Beware Consistency last year, but shortly afterward backed off that claim.

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    There is nothing wrong with being consistent when you are right.

    There is plenty wrong with being consistent when you are wrong.

    The problem with youth, wealth, and status is that it makes people think that they are right, even when they are wrong. Then they cling to the appearance of being right to preserve ego and status.

    When you are poor and low status, you don’t have the luxury of clinging on to consistency when you are wrong.

  • Faze

    Young, wealthy men are free. They have more choices. So they are more likely to make the better (and more consistent) choices than people whose choices are restricted by poverty, gender, or the complicated career and family situations that accumulate with age.

    • Miley Cyrax

      “than people whose choices are restricted by poverty, gender, and/or incompetence.”

      I thought I would lend a hand.

  • conchis

    I’m gonna go a head and trot out the standard questions that should be asked to make sense of any of these sorts of ‘X are more A than Y’ studies:

    1. How big are the differences in consistency between groups (e.g. males and females, rich and poor)?
    2. How much unexplained variation is there within the groups?

    The gender difference literature is generally renowned for making ‘X are more A than Y’ statements when the within group variation swamps the between group variation.

    Guess I should go read the paper.

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