The Own and Social Effects of an Unexpected Income Shock

Evidence from the Dutch Postcode Lottery

by Peter Kuhn, Peter Kooreman, Adriaan R. Soetevent, Arie Kapteyn

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In the Dutch Postcode Lottery a postal code (19 households on average) is randomly selected weekly, and prizes — consisting of cash and a new BMW — are awarded to lottery participants living in that postal code. On average, this generates a temporary, unexpected income shock equal to about eight months of income for about one third of the households in a typical winning code, while leaving the incomes of nonwinning, neighboring households unaffected. The authors study the responses of consumption and reported happiness of both winners and nonwinners to these shocks. Consistent with simple models of in-kind transfers, the overwhelming majority of households who won a BMW convert it into cash. With the exception of food away from home, the only 'own' effects of cash winnings they detect are on durables expenditures and car consumption; these results support a version of the permanent income hypothesis in which durable spending is used to smooth consumption. They detect social effects of neighbors' winnings on two types of consumption: cars and exterior home renovations. Six months after the fact, winning the lottery does not make households happier, nor do neighbors' winnings reduce happiness.

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