The patience of economists

Over four years since release of the working paper (and two and half years since I posted about it), Henrik Cronqvist and Stephan Siegel’s paper The Origin of Savings Behavior has been published in the Journal of Political Economy (follow the working paper link for an ungated copy). The abstract is as follows:

 Analyzing the savings behavior of a large sample of identical and fraternal twins, we find that genetic differences explain about 33 percent of the variation in savings propensities across individuals. Individuals are born with a persistent genetic predisposition to a specific savings behavior. Parenting contributes to the variation in savings rates among younger individuals, but its effect decays over time. The environment when growing up (e.g., parents’ wealth) moderates genetic effects. Finally, savings behavior is genetically correlated with income growth, smoking, and obesity, suggesting that the genetic component of savings behavior reflects genetic variation in time preferences or self-control.

As I posted last time, the finding is unsurprising and matches findings from behavioural genetics about other traits. Genes matter, heritability increases with age, family environment has little influence and there is a large non-shared environmental effect.

That it takes so long for economics papers to be published makes me thankful for the practice of releasing working papers. We’ve known of and have been able to talk about this result for several years now. It’s always interesting to see the multiple waves of press and attention as different audiences first become aware of a paper at different stages of its life.

But this does have some perverse effects, particularly across disciplinary boundaries. I recently received a referee report suggesting we had neglected some recent literature. Yet the main omission, a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, cites the working paper on which our submission was based. Our working paper has been out long enough for people in fields with a faster track to publication to cite it and be published themselves.

So, if we reference that paper, we create a circular set of citations. I’ve spent plenty of time over the last few years following citation chains that do not ultimately establish the point claimed, but I haven’t ended up back where I started too many times yet.

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