Sunday, January 28, 2024

New Paper: The Distributive Effects of Administrative Burdens on Decision Making

I posted previously about our recent paper (with Lucie Martin and Orla Doyle) on administrative burdens and inequality. That paper used episode reconstruction methods to examine the distributional aspects of administration. A follow-up paper now published in the excellent Journal of Behavioural Public Administration examines the distributional impacts of administrative burdens on decision-making using choice experiments. The abstract is below and paper is linked here

Administrative burdens may discourage people, especially vulnerable groups, from acting in their own best interest. Most survey experiments focus on attitudes around burdens, while case studies and field interventions analyse specific groups or policy contexts. We test the distributive effects of administrative burdens on decision-making, using a pre-registered survey experiment with a diverse UK sample (n = 2,243). Participants are shown two scenarios, claiming a government benefit and a phone bill refund. They are randomly assigned to low or high-burden versions of each scenario. High-burden versions involve a lengthy process (compliance costs) or an unpleasant interaction with a government worker (psychological costs) for the benefit claim. For the refund claim, they involve added complexity or an uncertain delay. Participants report being significantly less likely to complete the claim when the burden is high. Being in poor health exacerbates this effect. However, there are no additional burdens for those experiencing financial scarcity. Age and gender effects are mixed. This study shows that administrative burdens negatively impact decisions, even in hypothetical scenarios which may under-estimate effects, and that some groups may be especially affected. Survey experiments such as this can be used to pre-test policies by assessing potential burdens and their impact.

The scenarios used in the paper are below and are designed to mimic common administrative tasks in both a public and private settings. While most people indicate a high likelihood of completing the tasks despite the burden, they clearly discourage a significant minority of the sample (see Appendix 1 in the paper). The main question for the paper is whether the degree of discouragement varies by financial, age, gender, and health status. 

The key result from the paper is below with health effects being most clear. The impact of administrative burdens on those with poor health is very important from a range of perspectives and we hope these findings provide clear evidence of how these work and how they can be studied further in a range of settings.  

As I wrote in a previous post, the intersection of behavioural public policy, behavioural economics, and administrative burden literatures is one that is growing and potentially very fruitful. I wrote in a previous post following an excellent review article by Sanjay Pandey in particular the role that study of subjective experience might play in unifying these literatures. 

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