Research / BFI Working PaperJan 04, 2023

Nudging or Nagging? Conflicting Effects of Behavioral Tools

Ariel Kalil, Haoxuan Liu, Susan Mayer, Derek Rury, Rohen Shah

The gap in reading skills between low-income children and their higher income peers emerges early in life. To help boost the reading skills of low-income children, we conducted an RCT with low-income parents of young children in Chicago. The RCT aimed to increase parental reading time and child’s literacy skills. Parents were randomized into 4 groups: 1) a control group, and groups that received 2) a digital library tablet, 3) a digital library tablet with reminder texts, and 4) a digital library tablet with goal-setting texts. Both reminders and goal setting text messages were designed to nudge parents to manage present bias. Relative to the digital library tablet treatment, we find that goal-setting messages led to an increase (.32 SD) in parent reading time but had no effect on literacy skills. Unexpectedly, reminder messages led to a decrease in literacy skills, despite no significant difference in reading time. This demonstrates that nudging might have the unintended consequence of reducing the quality of the task (reading). Another important result is that technology may help boost the reading skills of low-income children: children in the digital library tablet group increase their literacy skills by .29 SD relative to the control group. All results are robust to controlling for school fixed effects, age and in the case of literacy skills, baseline assessment scores.

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