Money isn’t everything, economists find

In a blog post at the Innovations for Poverty Action website, Camille Boudot discusses a recent field study in southern Mali:  Through initial focus group discussions and individual interviews across villages in the region, we were assured that the market wage was fixed at 1000 FCFA/day for men (approximately $2). To test the range of ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

In a blog post at the Innovations for Poverty Action website, Camille Boudot discusses a recent field study in southern Mali: 

Through initial focus group discussions and individual interviews across villages in the region, we were assured that the market wage was fixed at 1000 FCFA/day for men (approximately $2). To test the range of wages which workers would be willing to work at, around this supposedly fixed rate we visited 4 villages and randomly chose men from our sample population. We asked them if they would accept a wage ranging from 10,000 FCFA/month to 25,000 FCFA/month for a 5 day week (around 500 FCFA to 1250 FCFA/day). To our surprise, this interested very few men - out of 31 men interviewed in 3 of the villages, only 4 agreed to participate. In one village, it not only didn't interest them, but they considered it shameful for us to come and ask them to supply daily labor. This notion of disgrace in working for others seemed to be ubiquitous - elders didn't allow their sons to engage in paid labor for fear of social judgment, young men migrated in search of daily jobs knowing their parents would track them down if they worked in neighboring villages. 

We could now come back to our first assumption with a bit more knowledge at hand. Why are people clearly defying the basic incentive of changing paths in order to earn more money? This project gives us an answer and an important lesson for researchers to remember. The reality is that not all influences on behavior conform to our traditional economic models, and can't all be easily quantified. 

In a blog post at the Innovations for Poverty Action website, Camille Boudot discusses a recent field study in southern Mali: 

Through initial focus group discussions and individual interviews across villages in the region, we were assured that the market wage was fixed at 1000 FCFA/day for men (approximately $2). To test the range of wages which workers would be willing to work at, around this supposedly fixed rate we visited 4 villages and randomly chose men from our sample population. We asked them if they would accept a wage ranging from 10,000 FCFA/month to 25,000 FCFA/month for a 5 day week (around 500 FCFA to 1250 FCFA/day). To our surprise, this interested very few men – out of 31 men interviewed in 3 of the villages, only 4 agreed to participate. In one village, it not only didn’t interest them, but they considered it shameful for us to come and ask them to supply daily labor. This notion of disgrace in working for others seemed to be ubiquitous – elders didn’t allow their sons to engage in paid labor for fear of social judgment, young men migrated in search of daily jobs knowing their parents would track them down if they worked in neighboring villages. 

We could now come back to our first assumption with a bit more knowledge at hand. Why are people clearly defying the basic incentive of changing paths in order to earn more money? This project gives us an answer and an important lesson for researchers to remember. The reality is that not all influences on behavior conform to our traditional economic models, and can’t all be easily quantified. 

On the one hand, this isn’t particularly surprising. Whether they’re in villages in southern Mali or opening artisanal mayonnaise stores in Brooklyn, people often make choices about their lifestyle and profession that are motivated by factors other than money. But it’s also an idea that doesn’t often get taken into account in designing more effective development programs. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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