Annual Report 2019

Investigate human decision-making by means of experiments

Our vision

The LISER-LAB is the laboratory dedicated to investigate human decision-making by means of experiments located at the first floor in the “Maison des Sciences Humaines” building, equipped with 32 networked computers positioned on dedicated and partitioned desks.

Experimental sessions are organised by inviting student participants from the University of Luxembourg who have expressed an interest in volunteering for experimental studies. In 2019 we conducted 23 experiments in our laboratory and currently have 976 registered volunteer participants.

LISER’s Centre for behavioural and experimental economics has the objective to:

  1. Generate first-class academic research that can be of interest not only to academic researchers, but also to national and international policymakers. To pursue this objective, the Centre’s is establishing long-term partnerships with public- and private-sector actors that will allow researchers to co-produce research with non-academic partners and to pursue activities of grant-seeking.
  2. Broaden the spectrum of experimental methods at LISER by creating a platform to conduct large-scale online experiments, using members of the general population resident in Luxembourg as research participants.
  3. Maximise international visibility by positioning the Centre and LISER within a rich academic network, comprised of international centres of excellence in experimental and behavioural economics.

When psychological biases reduce workforce well-being

Daniele Nosenzo

Is the transition toward the digital economy improving or worsening employee working conditions? Is digitalisation helping employers to exploit the workforce?

Workers on digital platforms are asked to work on piecework based on needs. A typical day consists of several take-it-or-leave-it jobs. Drivers choose to accept to work for each hour slot every day. Crowd workers perform several tasks, often given from the same requester, during the day based on needs. In some countries, like the US, Uber drivers are always asked to work the extra hour to reach daily goals. By accepting individual tasks each time, workers may not consider the total work needed to perform in a day but focus on each task individually. As a consequence, they risk working too much or accept lower wages than what they would receive if the jobs would have been offered together. This problem derives from a common psychological bias, called narrow bracketing, that has been established in other domains, but so far not in the “workplace”.

Digital platforms can design the choice architecture in order to exploit this bias, at the expenses of workers well-being. Digital workplaces have unique characteristics. The challenge for policymakers is to find the optimal way to regulate this sector. The provision and salience of information could reduce the means to exploit workers but regulation of these areas has rarely been made in other sectors. Given the novelty of the type of jobs Read also Luxembourg’s skills mismatch: one out of two employees concerned

European integration, local hiring subsidies and childbirth events: A Causal Analysis on Cross-Border Workers in Europe
, more research is needed to understand how to regulate this sector.

Gender norms and intra-household division of labour

Daniele Nosenzo

Why do women not become breadwinners more often? Are social norms holding them back?

For many couples, becoming parents is a happy event. However, the time Read also How Families Spend Their Time Has Changes Over Time constraints that arise in the presence of small children often create incentives to divide labour unequally within the family. Economists call this “specialisation”, meaning that partners specialise in providing for different needs. In most heterosexual couples, specialisation is highly gendered, with the male partner providing (most of) the family income Read also What is the EU-SILC survey conducted for? From which data is the at-risk-of-poverty rate calculated? What is the point of responding to surveys? and the female partner (most of) the childcare. While specialisation often benefits the family as a whole by allowing for an efficient organisation of everyday life, it can come at a personal cost to individual family members. For example, women often sacrifice career prospects Read also Using gamification to deconstruct gender stereotypes and promote science to attain a flexible work schedule that accommodates their caretaker responsibilities, while men may sacrifice valuable moments with their children and family Read also Our vision to attain a career and income that provide for the household. But why do women and men not divide responsibilities more equally, or switch roles more often, so that, at least at the society level, women and men are equally likely to experience both a career and time with children?

In one of our research projects, we examine the role of gender norms in specialisation decisions. The main idea is to understand whether one reason why women and men still choose relatively traditional ways of specialising may be societal expectations about gender roles, in other words, about “who ought to do what”. To study this question, we invited real heterosexual couples into the lab and collected data on how they divide labour. Our research shows that, when dividing paid and unpaid work, a primary concern of partners is to achieve a high degree of efficiency. This means they choose who is most “fit” for the job, regardless of gender. However, we find some evidence that gender norms matter, too. Specifically, our data shows behavioural patterns that are consistent with avoidance of the breadwinner role in case of women and of earning less income than their partner in case of men.

While there is still much to learn about division of labour decisions in families, our results indicate that norms play an important role. This is good news for policy makers who have, despite significant efforts, struggled to encourage an equal sharing of family responsibilities between genders in the past. According to our research, understanding how to account for gender norms in designing family policies may greatly improve opportunities for men and women to enjoy a different division of labour in the future.