Modern economic theory rests on the basic assumption that agents’ choices are guided by preferences. The question of where such preferences might have come from has traditionally been ignored or viewed agnostically. The biological approach to economic behavior addresses the issue of the origins of economic preferences explicitly. This approach assumes that economic preferences are shaped by the forces of natural selection. For example, an important theoretical insight delivered thus far by this approach is that individuals ought to be more risk averse to aggregate than to idiosyncratic risk. Additionally the approach has delivered an evolutionary basis for hedonic and adaptive utility and an evolutionary rationale for “theory of mind.” Related empirical work has studied the evolution of time preferences, loss aversion, and explored the deep evolutionary determinants of long-run economic development.
Nikolaus Robalino and Arthur Robson
Zoë Fannon and Bent Nielsen
Outcomes of interest often depend on the age, period, or cohort of the individual observed, where cohort and age add up to period. An example is consumption: consumption patterns change over the lifecycle (age) but are also affected by the availability of products at different times (period) and by birth-cohort-specific habits and preferences (cohort). Age-period-cohort (APC) models are additive models where the predictor is a sum of three time effects, which are functions of age, period, and cohort, respectively. Variations of these models are available for data aggregated over age, period, and cohort, and for data drawn from repeated cross-sections, where the time effects can be combined with individual covariates. The age, period, and cohort time effects are intertwined. Inclusion of an indicator variable for each level of age, period, and cohort results in perfect collinearity, which is referred to as “the age-period-cohort identification problem.” Estimation can be done by dropping some indicator variables. However, dropping indicators has adverse consequences such as the time effects are not individually interpretable and inference becomes complicated. These consequences are avoided by instead decomposing the time effects into linear and non-linear components and noting that the identification problem relates to the linear components, whereas the non-linear components are identifiable. Thus, confusion is avoided by keeping the identifiable non-linear components of the time effects and the unidentifiable linear components apart. A variety of hypotheses of practical interest can be expressed in terms of the non-linear components.
Marjon van der Pol and Alastair Irvine
The interest in eliciting time preferences for health has increased rapidly since the early 1990s. It has two main sources: a concern over the appropriate methods for taking timing into account in economics evaluations, and a desire to obtain a better understanding of individual health and healthcare behaviors. The literature on empirical time preferences for health has developed innovative elicitation methods in response to specific challenges that are due to the special nature of health. The health domain has also shown a willingness to explore a wider range of underlying models compared to the monetary domain. Consideration of time preferences for health raises a number of questions. Are time preferences for health similar to those for money? What are the additional challenges when measuring time preferences for health? How do individuals in time preference for health experiments make decisions? Is it possible or necessary to incentivize time preference for health experiments?
Health status measurement issues arise across a wide spectrum of applications in empirical health economics research as well as in public policy, clinical, and regulatory contexts. It is fitting that economists and other researchers working in these domains devote scientific attention to the measurement of those phenomena most central to their investigations. While often accepted and used uncritically, the particular measures of health status used in empirical investigations can have sometimes subtle but nonetheless important implications for research findings and policy action. How health is characterized and measured at the individual level and how such individual-level measures are summarized to characterize the health of groups and populations are entwined considerations. Such measurement issues have become increasingly salient given the wealth of health data available from population surveys, administrative sources, and clinical records in which researchers may be confronted with competing options for how they go about characterizing and measuring health. While recent work in health economics has seen significant advances in the econometric methods used to estimate and interpret quantities like treatment effects, the literature has seen less focus on some of the central measurement issues necessarily involved in such exercises. As such, increased attention ought to be devoted to measuring and understanding health status concepts that are relevant to decision makers’ objectives as opposed to those that are merely statistically convenient.
José Luis Pinto-Prades, Arthur Attema, and Fernando Ignacio Sánchez-Martínez
Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) are one of the main health outcomes measures used to make health policy decisions. It is assumed that the objective of policymakers is to maximize QALYs. Since the QALY weighs life years according to their health-related quality of life, it is necessary to calculate those weights (also called utilities) in order to estimate the number of QALYs produced by a medical treatment. The methodology most commonly used to estimate utilities is to present standard gamble (SG) or time trade-off (TTO) questions to a representative sample of the general population. It is assumed that, in this way, utilities reflect public preferences. Two different assumptions should hold for utilities to be a valid representation of public preferences. One is that the standard (linear) QALY model has to be a good model of how subjects value health. The second is that subjects should have consistent preferences over health states. Based on the main assumptions of the popular linear QALY model, most of those assumptions do not hold. A modification of the linear model can be a tractable improvement. This suggests that utilities elicited under the assumption that the linear QALY model holds may be biased. In addition, the second assumption, namely that subjects have consistent preferences that are estimated by asking SG or TTO questions, does not seem to hold. Subjects are sensitive to features of the elicitation process (like the order of questions or the type of task) that should not matter in order to estimate utilities. The evidence suggests that questions (TTO, SG) that researchers ask members of the general population produce response patterns that do not agree with the assumption that subjects have well-defined preferences when researchers ask them to estimate the value of health states. Two approaches can deal with this problem. One is based on the assumption that subjects have true but biased preferences. True preferences can be recovered from biased ones. This approach is valid as long as the theory used to debias is correct. The second approach is based on the idea that preferences are imprecise. In practice, national bodies use utilities elicited using TTO or SG under the assumptions that the linear QALY model is a good enough representation of public preferences and that subjects’ responses to preference elicitation methods are coherent.
Many nonlinear time series models have been around for a long time and have originated outside of time series econometrics. The stochastic models popular univariate, dynamic single-equation, and vector autoregressive are presented and their properties considered. Deterministic nonlinear models are not reviewed. The use of nonlinear vector autoregressive models in macroeconometrics seems to be increasing, and because this may be viewed as a rather recent development, they receive somewhat more attention than their univariate counterparts. Vector threshold autoregressive, smooth transition autoregressive, Markov-switching, and random coefficient autoregressive models are covered along with nonlinear generalizations of vector autoregressive models with cointegrated variables. Two nonlinear panel models, although they cannot be argued to be typically macroeconometric models, have, however, been frequently applied to macroeconomic data as well. The use of all these models in macroeconomics is highlighted with applications in which model selection, an often difficult issue in nonlinear models, has received due attention. Given the large amount of nonlinear time series models, no unique best method of choosing between them seems to be available.