Research / BFI Working PaperJun 16, 2022

Scarcity and Inattention

A scarcity mindset focuses attention on immediate needs. This attention capture often results in having less attention (or “cognitive bandwidth”) for other concerns. We examine low-income parents’ inattention to information when they are experiencing two types of scarcity mindsets: financial scarcity; i.e., a subjective report of not having enough money to make ends meet, and social connections scarcity; i.e., a subjective report of loneliness. We measure inattention with an objective measure that reflects parents’ awareness of informational resources about support for managing life during the pandemic sent to them by their child’s school. We rely on survey data collected shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic from 345 low-income parents of young children and from the directors of the 11 preschool centers attended by the children. In multivariate analyses, we find that both types of scarcity mindsets are significantly positively associated with inattention. Further, we show that financial scarcity and loneliness are largely independent phenomena and have roughly equivalent impacts on inattention. Parents who report a financial scarcity mindset and high levels loneliness are 63 per cent more likely than their counterparts who experience neither to be inattentive to information that was sent by the schools.

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