Taking the Biggest First

Age Differences in Preferences for Monetary and Hedonic Sequences

Published in: The Journals of Gerontology: Series B [Epub January 2018], gbx160. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbx160

Posted on RAND.org on January 30, 2018

by JoNell Strough, Wandi Bruine de Bruin, Andrew M. Parker

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Access further information on this document at The Journals of Gerontology: Series B [Epub January 2018]

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.


People face decisions about how to sequence payments and events, including when to schedule bigger events relative to smaller ones. We examine age differences in these sequence preferences.


We gave a national adult life-span sample (n = 1,296, mean = 53.06 years, standard deviation = 16.33) four scenarios describing a positive or negative hedonic (enjoyable weekends, painful dental procedures) or monetary (receiving versus paying money) event. We considered associations among age, sequence preferences, three self-reported decision-making processes — emphasizing experience, emotion, and reasoning — and two dimensions of future time perspective — focusing on future opportunities and limited time.


Older age was associated with taking the "biggest" event sooner instead of later, especially for receiving money, but also for the other three scenarios. Older age was associated with greater reported use of reason and experience and lesser reported use of emotion. These decision-making processes played a role in understanding age differences in sequence preferences, but future time perspective did not.


We discuss "taking the biggest first" preferences in light of prior mixed findings on age differences in sequence preferences. We highlight the distinct roles of experience — and emotion-based decision-making processes. We propose applications to financial and health-care settings.

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