Default Effects and Follow-on Behavior: Evidence from an Electricity Pricing Program

We study default effects in the context of a residential electricity-pricing program. We analyze a large-scale randomized controlled trial in which one treatment group was given the option to opt-in to time-varying pricing while another was defaulted into the program but allowed to opt-out. We provide dramatic evidence of a default effect on program participation, consistent with previous research. A novel feature of our study is that we also observe how the default manipulation impacts customers’ subsequent electricity consumption. Passive consumers who did not opt-out but would not have opted in — comprising more than 70 percent of the sample — nonetheless reduce consumption in response to higher prices. Observation of this follow-on behavior enables us to assess competing explanations for the default effect. We draw conclusions about the likely welfare effects of defaulting customers onto time-varying pricing.

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