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The Methodology of Economics: How Economists Choose Between Theories

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I began this thesis because I was confused about economics. I wondered why there were so many different models. I didn't understand how they fit together. I was also confused by the assumptions being made. For instance, the assumption that

I began this thesis because I was confused about economics. I wondered why there were so many different models. I didn't understand how they fit together. I was also confused by the assumptions being made. For instance, the assumption that humans are rational utility-maximizers did not seem to agree with my own experiences. With my director Dr. Edward Schlee's help, my thesis has become an inquiry into the state of economic methodology, both in theory and in practice. The questions that drive this paper are: How do economists choose between theories? What is the purpose of economic theory? What is the role of empirical data in assessing models? What role do assumptions play in theory evaluation, and should assumptions make sense? Part I: Methodology is the theoretical portion of the paper. I summarize the essential arguments of the two main schools of thought in economic methodology, and argue for an updated methodology. In Part II: A case study: The expected utility hypothesis, I examine methodology in practice by assessing a handful of studies that seek to test the expected utility hypothesis. Interestingly, I find that there is a different between what economists say they are doing, and what they actually seem to be doing. Throughout this paper, I restrict my analysis to microeconomic theory, simply because this is the area with which I am more familiar. I intend this paper to be a guide for my fellow students and rising economists, as well as for already practicing economists. I hope it helps the reader better understand methodology and improve her own practice.

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2013-05

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Decision Making in Health Insurance Markets

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Prior research on consumer behavior in health insurance markets has primarily focused on individual decision making while relying on strong parametric assumptions about preferences. The aim of this dissertation is to improve the traditional approach in both dimensions. First, I

Prior research on consumer behavior in health insurance markets has primarily focused on individual decision making while relying on strong parametric assumptions about preferences. The aim of this dissertation is to improve the traditional approach in both dimensions. First, I consider the importance of joint decision-making in individual insurance markets by studying how married couples coordinate their choices in these markets. Second, I investigate the robustness of prior studies by developing a non-parametric method to assess decision-making in health insurance markets. To study how married couples make choices in individual insurance markets I estimate a stochastic choice model of household demand that takes into account spouses' risk aversion, spouses' expenditure risk, risk sharing, and switching costs. I use the model estimates to study how coordination within couples and interaction between couples and singles affects the way that markets adjust to policies designed to nudge consumers toward choosing higher value plans, particularly with respect to adverse selection.

Finally, to assess consumer decision-making beyond standard parametric assumptions about preferences, I use second--order stochastic dominance rankings. Moreover, I show how to extend this method to construct bounds on the welfare implications of choosing dominated plans.

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2020