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Exploring the Effectiveness of Duty-based Arguments for Retirement Saving


Christopher Bryan
Hal Ersner-Hershfield
Lee Ross
Project Mentor

Most Americans fail to save enough money to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living after they retire-presumably because they steeply discount the value of future outcomes relative to present ones. To explain the steepness of such discounting, we note past research suggesting that people often think of their future selves as though they are other people rather than extensions of themselves in the present. It is further hypothesized that to the extent that one's future self is not fully regarded as continuous with the present self, one may not feel that it is in one's interest to save money for that future self. The proposed research will explore two different interventions intended to address this barrier to adequate retirement saving. The first will appeal to individuals' sense of "duty" to his or her future self-a self that is dependent on the present self in much the same way as are one's children, aging parents, or other loved ones. The second will use a bequest-oriented message to appeal directly to the sense of duty that parents feel towards their children. We seek specifically to compare the relative effectiveness of such duty-based appeals with more traditional self-interest-based appeals for people across the pre-retirement life span.


Nomita Divi