Patience decreases with age for the poor but not for the rich: an international comparison

Giovanni Burro, Rebecca McDonald, Daniel Read*, Umar Taj

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
333 Downloads (Pure)


We introduce the Preference for Earlier versus Later Income (PELI) scale, measuring patience for over 50,000 individuals from 65 countries. We focus on the relationship between age and income on patience, two variables that have been widely studied in isolation. We find that, within countries, individuals in the richest income quintile are equally patient at any age while individuals in the poorest quintile are less patient the older they are. The relationships in the other quintiles are distributed in an orderly manner between these extremes. We derive a national patience index that correlates with characteristics linked to economic development, with cultural differences associated with patience, and with alternative more complex measures of patience. We recommend adopting PELI in international surveys.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)596-621
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Early online date20 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are indebted to Gallup International for inviting us to include two questions in their 2015 End of Year Survey and for giving us access to the data. Giovanni Burro acknowledges the support of the Leverhulme Trust, through the Bridges doctoral scholarship. Daniel Read and Rebecca McDonald acknowledge the assistance of the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/P008976/1]. Shushan Li provided invaluable research assistance as part of her MSc dissertation. We also learned a lot from participants of SABE/IAREP Dublin 2019, SPUDM Amsterdam 2019, and the attendees at a workshop at the Booth School of Business, April 2021. The editor, two referees, Sanjong Misra, Redzo Mujcic, Nattavudh Powdthavee, Marc Scholten, Chris Starmer, Peter Wakker, and especially Merve Alanyali all contributed to the development of the paper. A longer version of this paper, containing more analyses in the appendix, is available here . Data and code are available here .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • Age
  • Income
  • Patience
  • Time Discounting
  • World

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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