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University of Michigan School of Information


SBEE seminar series: Robert Metcalfe

09/29/2020, 10:00 am - 11:15 am

The Value of Time in the United States: Estimates from a Nationwide Natural Field Experiment


The value of time determines relative prices of goods and services, investments, productivity, economic growth and measurements of income inequality.  Economists in the 1960s began to focus on the value of non-work time, pioneering a deep literature exploring the optimal allocation and value of time.  By leveraging key features of these classic time allocation theories, we use a novel approach to estimate the value of time (VOT) via two large-scale natural field experiments with the ridesharing company Lyft. We use random variation in both wait times and prices to estimate a consumer's VOT with a data set of more than 14 million observations across consumers in U.S. cities.

We find that the VOT is roughly $19 per hour (or 75% (100%) of the after-tax mean (median) wage rate) and varies predictably with choice circumstances correlated with the opportunity cost of wait time. Our VOT estimate is larger than what is currently used by the U.S. Government, suggesting that society is under-valuing time improvements and subsequently under-investing public resources in time-saving infrastructure projects and technologies.

Speaker Bio:

Robert Metcalfe

Robert Metcalfe is a Visiting Associate Professor in Economics at the University of Southern California and an Assistant Professor in Markets, Public Policy, and Law at the Questrom School of Business, Boston University. Metcalfe's research lies within applied microeconomics, with a focus on energy and environmental markets, transportation, firm and labor productivity, and digital platforms. He uses field experimental methods to understand human behavior in regulated consumer markets and within organizations. He holds a PhD from Imperial College London and an MSc from the London School of Economics.


The Social, Behavioral and Experimental Economics seminar series is a joint presentation of the School of Information, the Ross School of Business and the LSA Department of Economics.

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