What do our time preferences reveal about our pasts?

This 2016 Swedish human study found:

“Time discounting significantly predicts criminal activity and that high discount rates predict crime more strongly at the extensive margin rather than for total crime. The link is much stronger for property crime and among males with low intelligence.”

The subjects were 13-year-old students in Stockholm County who were asked as a part of a school survey in 1966:

“If you had to choose between SEK 900 [USD 138] now versus SEK 9,000 [USD 1,380] in five years, what would you choose?

  1. Certainly SEK 900 now
  2. Probably SEK 900 now
  3. Cannot choose
  4. Probably SEK 9,000 in five years
  5. Certainly SEK 9,000 in five years”

A choice of Answer 1 to get something immediately and not get ten times the nominal value in five years corresponds to a 58.4% annual discount rate.

These answers to a hypothetical monetary trade-off were correlated to other measures such as intelligence and father’s income. However, the researchers didn’t investigate possible origins:

“We focus on the predictive value of time discounting and avoid claims about causality.”


We know from proper economic theory that time preferences are part of human nature. Discount rates and money don’t necessarily have to be involved because humans will value something today more than a similar item in the future.

I’d guess that most of the answers reflected conditioned behaviors. Did the 13-year olds who answered #1 even roughly calculate the problem? I wonder if they felt they would still be alive at age 18?

http://www.pnas.org/content/113/22/6160.full “Time discounting and criminal behavior”

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