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Good OM Reading: Can Parking Behavior Predict Productivity Gains?

November 3, 2014


One of the well-known experimental studies of people’s behavior is the “Stanford marshmallow experiment”  in 1970 in which children were put in an room and given the following instructions: they are given one marshmallow and can eat it immediately; however, if they wait for 15 minutes without eating it, they will receive another marshmallow. The most interesting finding is that more than 10 years later, the children who resisted the temptation to eat immediately and earned the second marshmallow “were significantly more competent” and achieved higher SAT scores. In general, people who exhibit the ability to delay gratification tend to do better in career and life.

parkingAnd every once in a while, we come across an academic journal article that is equally fascinating. The concept is that at the macrolevel, a metric that measures the overall effort of delaying gratification across economies would better gauge or explain economic growth differences across countries. Prof. Shaomin Li, at Old Dominion U., proposes a novel metric in his fascinating article in The International Journal of Emerging Markets (No. 4, 2014): the way that people park their cars.

Back-in parking takes more time and effort than head-in parking. Yet, it is easier, quicker, and safer when exiting. Thus Li conjectures that people who take the trouble to back in demonstrate the ability to delay gratification; they want to invest more time and effort now so that they can enjoy the fruits of their labor later. They demonstrate a culture of long-term orientation. Such behavior, says Li, should be positively associated with taking time to study, saving more money and working harder in order to enjoy life later, a trait that contributes to national productivity gains and economic growth. The table summarizes the analysis.

parking table

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