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The Endowment Effect: High stakes evidence from rural Zambia
Last registered on September 30, 2019


Trial Information
General Information
The Endowment Effect: High stakes evidence from rural Zambia
Initial registration date
September 28, 2019
Last updated
September 30, 2019 1:37 PM EDT
Primary Investigator
UC Santa Barbara
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute & University of Basel
PI Affiliation
University of Heidelberg
PI Affiliation
UC Santa Barbara
Additional Trial Information
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
A growing literature associates poverty with biases in decision-making. We investigate this link in a sample of over 3,000 small-scale farmers in Zambia, who participated in a series of experiments involving the opportunity to exchange randomly assigned household items for alternative items of similar value. Exploring a total of 5,842 trading decisions over a range of household items we show that exchange asymmetries are sizable and remarkably robust across items and experimental procedures. Using cross sectional, seasonal and randomized variation in financial resource availability, we show that exchange asymmetries decrease in magnitude when subjects are more constrained. Consistent with the interpretation that financial constraints increase decision stakes, we also show that trading probabilities increase when the value of the items involved is exogenously increased.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Fehr, Dietmar et al. 2019. "The Endowment Effect: High stakes evidence from rural Zambia." AEA RCT Registry. September 30. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.1111-1.0.
Experimental Details
We collect data in the context of an ongoing randomized controlled trial on seasonal resource constraints and labor supply that involved repeated surveys over multiple years (see Fink, Jack, and Masiye, 2018). As part of the ongoing surveys, households received a small item as a compensation for their time. We intervened in this standard procedure by randomly endowing participants with one of two equally-valued items midway through a survey. Items were common household necessities worth about 1/5th of the daily agricultural wage. At the end of the survey, surveyors offered participants the opportunity to trade the endowed item for the alternative item. This implements the standard exchange paradigm used to measure the "endowment effect" in laboratory settings in a more naturalistic, real-stakes decision in the field.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
trading decisions
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
we record whether a respondent exchanges the item they received initially for an alternative item
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Trading decisions were measured over three survey rounds, implemented after the 2014 harvest, before the 2015 harvest (during the hungry season) and after the 2015 harvest, with random variation in respondent experience in each round. Item pairs and experimental procedures were varied at the village and household level, respectively, into the following conditions:
A) Item pairs:
i) Boom (washing powder) versus Salt
ii) Boom versus cash
iii) Cup versus spoon
iv) Solar lamp versus cash

B) Experimental procedures:
i) Free Choice (no initial assignment)
ii) Assigned (by computer)
iii) Lottery (transparent randomization)
iv) Timing (~5 min interval between assignment and trading opportunity)
v) Voucher (initial assignment of voucher instead of item)
vi) Expectations (trading opportunity announced at time of initial endowment)
vii) Wording (surveyor requested respondent to trade)
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
i) assignment of initial item:
standard assignment: computer
lottery: draw button from a bag

ii) assignment of item pairs and experimental procedures:
block randomized across rounds and treatments by computer
Randomization Unit
Village level (item pairs) and household level (experimental procedures)
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
175 villages
Sample size: planned number of observations
5842 choice or trading decisions across 3059 households
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
3059 households that make up to three decisions each
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
Harvard School of Public Health Institutional Review Board
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)