Research / BFI Working PaperMay 24, 2021

How Experiments with Children Inform Economics

John List, Ragan Petrie, Anya Samek

In the past several decades the experimental method has lent deep insights into economics. One perhaps surprising area that has contributed is the experimental study of children, where advances as varied as the evolution of human behaviors that shape markets and institutions, to how early life influences shape later life outcomes, have been explored. We first develop a framework for economic preference measurement that provides a lens into how to interpret data from experiments with children. Next, we survey work that provides general empirical insights within our framework. Finally, we provide 10 tips for pulling off experiments with children, including factors such as taking into account child competencies, causal identification, and logistical issues related to recruitment and implementation. We envision the experimental study of children as a high growth research area in the coming decades as social scientists begin to more fully appreciate that children are active participants in markets who (might) respond predictably to economic incentives.

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