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Why the Linear Utility Function is a Risky Choice in Discrete-Choice Experiments


Sennhauser, Michele (2010). Why the Linear Utility Function is a Risky Choice in Discrete-Choice Experiments. Working paper series / Socioeconomic Institute No. 1014, University of Zurich.

Abstract

This article assesses how the form of the utility function in discrete-choice experiments (DCEs) affects estimates of willingness-to-pay (WTP). The utility function is usually assumed to be linear in its attributes. Non-linearities, in the guise of interactions and higher-order terms, are applied only rather ad hoc. This paper sheds some light on this issue by showing that the linear utility function can be a risky choice in DCEs. For this purpose, a DCE conducted in Switzerland to assess preferences for statutory social health insurance is estimated in two ways: first, using a linear utility function; and second, using a non-linear utility function specified according to model specification rules from the econometrics and statistics literature. The results show that not only does the non-linear function outperform the linear specification with regard to goodness-of-fit, but it also generates significantly different WTP. Hence, the functional form of the utility function may have significant impact on estimated WTP. In order to produce unbiased estimates of preferences and to make adequate decisions based on DCEs, the form of the utility function should become more prominent in future experiments.

This article assesses how the form of the utility function in discrete-choice experiments (DCEs) affects estimates of willingness-to-pay (WTP). The utility function is usually assumed to be linear in its attributes. Non-linearities, in the guise of interactions and higher-order terms, are applied only rather ad hoc. This paper sheds some light on this issue by showing that the linear utility function can be a risky choice in DCEs. For this purpose, a DCE conducted in Switzerland to assess preferences for statutory social health insurance is estimated in two ways: first, using a linear utility function; and second, using a non-linear utility function specified according to model specification rules from the econometrics and statistics literature. The results show that not only does the non-linear function outperform the linear specification with regard to goodness-of-fit, but it also generates significantly different WTP. Hence, the functional form of the utility function may have significant impact on estimated WTP. In order to produce unbiased estimates of preferences and to make adequate decisions based on DCEs, the form of the utility function should become more prominent in future experiments.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Working Paper Series > Socioeconomic Institute (former)
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
JEL Classification:C52, C9, I11, I18
Language:English
Date:November 2010
Deposited On:29 Nov 2011 15:09
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:09
Series Name:Working paper series / Socioeconomic Institute
Official URL:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/wp.html
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-51796

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