Behavioural Economics

SRDC recognized early on that cognitive and behavioural factors can affect important outcomes like getting a job or a good education. Since 2001, SRDC has conducted several economic experiments that created controlled settings to study program participants' preferences and behaviour. We have applied this approach in several areas, including adult education, the use of labour market information, and student financial aid.

Current and Completed Projects:

Plan My Path Plus: Piloting New Approaches to Increase Young Albertans' Access to PSE

The Alberta Government is developing a new tool called Plan My Path (PMP), a website designed to guide students in their postsecondary choices, with the goal to increase the proportion of the province’s high school students achieving success in accessing postsecondary education (PSE). The government will roll out PMP in 2023 as an ongoing service to high school students but wants to know how best to implement this tool to yield optimal outcomes for young people. SRDC is advising on the design of PMP, and testing potentially replicable additional features such as workshops on the tool and the coverage of PSE application fees, that could enhance take-up and use of the tool and hence its efficacy among Grade 12 students. The intent of this is that providing postsecondary education application assistance to youth in their Grade 12 year will improve their transition rates to PSE. The initial participants to receive this assistance will be youth attending high schools with low transition rates to PSE. SRDC will coordinate this PMP Plus demonstration project to pilot the additional features during 2023-24 to determine the impact these additional features have on the success of PMP, to guide the province on the optimal longer-term strategy for the delivery of the program.

Start-end date: December 2021 - March 2025
Sponsor: Alberta Advanced Education

Connecting the Dots

This project aims to develop, implement, and evaluate an integrated, accessible, and adaptive training and support system, serving as an online one-stop shop of educational tools, materials, and community resources for apprentices in the construction trades. The goal is to empower apprentices to take a proactive role in addressing multiple levels of challenges during apprenticeship training. As part of the project, SRDC is designing and implementing a cohesive evaluation framework and data collection tools that not only track the progress of participating apprentices but also collect input and feedback from trades instructors, employers, unions, and other stakeholders to inform current and future products, tools, and services. The project contributes to facilitate the entry, retention, and advancement of underrepresented groups in the trades through an innovative, self-directed approach to online learning and interaction. It is designed to provide equal opportunity and access for groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the trades, such as women, newcomers, visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and low-skilled and displaced workers. Findings, best practices, and lessons learned from this project will be shared to support larger-scale expansion of this technology-driven approach to skills development within and beyond the construction sector.

Start-end date: March 2021 - February 2026
Sponsor: SkillPlan

Implementing a Virtual Recruitment and Assessment Centre for the Unionized Construction Industry

This project will develop a recruitment strategy integrating sectoral needs analysis, behavioural insights, and social marketing to reach underrepresented groups and increase their awareness, knowledge, and connection to the building trades. A social media based messaging strategy informed by how each of the targeted groups perceives benefits and barriers to entering the trades will connect prospective candidates to an innovative online assessment and matching platform which will help users determine their suitability, connect directly to a Building Trades union, and transition into the apprenticeship system with essential skills tutoring. Unions will help to inform the recruitment strategy and refine the assessment and matching process to ensure candidates have the skills and mentor/support networks to succeed. Phase II of the project will focus on optimization of user pathways and enhanced functionality and content of learning resources. As well, this phase will focus on customizing components to be more responsive to local conditions, recruitment challenges, and union-specific skills needs. Evidence on the effectiveness of these enhancements will be generated through a mixed methods approach, which will include both implementation research and an outcomes study to evaluate the success of the initiative.

Start-end date: April 2020 - September 2023
Sponsor: Future Skills Centre

Developing Federal Capacity in Experimentation

Building on a series of SRDC workshops on Experimentation for the department of Canadian Heritage in 2018-2019, SRDC is working with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to build their internal capacity to design, conduct, and/or assess pilot projects applying behavioural insight and experimental methodologies. A one-day workshop delivered by SRDC staff is being augmented with consultation and coaching sessions supporting a smaller team developing a pilot under the federal Experimentation Works program. SRDC is preparing a customized version of workshop materials in PowerPoint form for ESDC, as well as a planning document for designing experiments.

Start-end date: February 2020 - March 2021
Sponsor: Employment and Social Development Canada

Follow-up survey of Willingness to Pay (Choices) study participants

This project extends SRDC’s previous study on Willingness to Borrow for post-secondary education (PSE) – a project funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and the now-defunct Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The original fieldwork used an innovative, laboratory experiment design to assess receptivity to various types of PSE financing among Canadian students in their final year of high school. The experiment took place during the 2008-09 academic year, and involved 1,248 students from 12 different schools in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec. After completing the experiment, the vast majority of the original sample agreed to being contacted for a follow-up study. This project initiates the follow-up survey to track ten years of post-high school outcomes among the original participating students. The survey is to generate a unique longitudinal data set for use by CIRANO and SRDC researchers, linking activities in the final year of high school to PSE enrolment and persistence outcomes in the context of a uniquely rich set of experimental and survey data from the original study, which captured preferences for PSE, willingness to pay and borrow as well as the experimental assignment of grants and loans. SRDC’s analysis of the follow-up project dataset will explore the role of less-understood barriers (e.g., price sensitivity and loan aversion) on PSE access, completion and labour market outcomes, particularly amongst under-represented groups. It will permit baseline measures of preference, numeracy, tolerance for risk, and willingness to borrow to pay for PSE to be harnessed as predictors of later PSE and labour market outcomes, permitting policy makers to better understand who goes to PSE and why.

Start-end date: July 2019 - March 2022
Sponsor: CIRANO, Max Bell Foundation, and Employment and Social Development Canada

A review of the Canadian Financial Capability Survey Questionnaire

The Canadian Financial Capability Survey (CFCS) is administered by Statistics Canada to a nationally representative sample of Canadian adults in an effort to measure their financial knowledge, abilities, and behaviours. The CFCS is administered on a five-year cycle with prior waves in 2009 and 2014. In preparation for the 2019 cycle, SRDC has been contracted by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) to advise on the renewal of the instrument. In addition to a review of the core financial literacy and knowledge assessments, SRDC will advise on the various measures of financial behaviours and outcomes. The review aims to enhance both the statistical properties of the instrument and align it with recent developments in both the Government of Canada’s National Strategy for Financial Literacy and international developments in measurement.

Start-end date: February 2018 - August 2018
Sponsor: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Understanding the Barriers to Adult Learning (Phase I)

The project is an effort to help the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP) and the Government of Manitoba to better understand the barriers to adult learning, and in what ways student financial assistance programs could better support adult learners. The project investigates the feasibility of a research program to identify the behavioural factors affecting individuals’ take-up of learning opportunities, and what roles essential skills play in adult learning decision-making.

Start-end date: November 2017 - March 2018
Sponsor: Employment and Social Development Canada

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Connecting Arabic-speaking Refugees to Employers (C.A.R.E.) in the Hospitality Sector Project

This pilot in Surrey, British Columbia is using the behavioural economics concept of “nudging” in order to understand the behaviours and choices of small business employers in the hospitality sector towards recruiting and hiring Privately Sponsored and Government Assisted refugees.

Start-end date: September 2017 - March 2018
Sponsor: S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Phased approach for Options for a rigorous test for an online micro-grant

This project is for the development of a pilot test for an online micro-granting tool as a means of funding, in a more direct and streamlined fashion, youth-led projects aligned with public policy objectives. While the pilot will be designed in the specific context of Canadian Heritage's goals of enhancing youth engagement and diversity, evidence on the feasibility and effectiveness of the tool as a crowdsourcing platform will have pan-governmental benefits, and support further innovation in Grants and Contributions across all federal departments. The key output of the project will be a design report for a “choice” experiment that will help refine the micro granting model as well as an evaluation and implementation strategy for a full pilot.

Start-end date: March 2017 - March 2018
Sponsor: Canadian Heritage

Life After High School Ontario – Phase III

The purpose of Life After High School is to improve the rates at which high school students transition to post-secondary education by reducing the non-financial and financial barriers students face. The program applies lessons from behavioural economics to provide all Grade 12 students at selected Ontario secondary schools with practical support applying for post-secondary education and financial aid. Students are guided through online tools and video in the process of selecting a post-secondary program of their choice, applying for a place in that program without incurring a fee, and applying for financial aid. As options are considered for the delivery of a streamlined Life After High School program in Ontario in future years, SRDC is running the program in 69 low-transition schools in 2016-17.

Start-end date: September 2016 - June 2017
Sponsor: Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development

The role of financial literacy on financial decisions and retirement preparedness among seniors and older adults

Recent evidence suggests that many seniors and older adults may struggle to manage their finances. On assessments of financial capability, Canadian seniors and older adults fared poorly on objective measures of financial knowledge including those with high self-rated skills. These gaps may have serious consequences for financial decision-making, particularly among those heading into retirement. This project analyzes the 2014 Canadian Financial Capability Survey (CFCS) to understand the challenges that Canadian seniors and older adults face with financial literacy, how these relate to financial outcomes, and retirement preparedness.

Start-end date: September 2015 - March 2016
Sponsor: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

The role of subjective attitudes and beliefs in financial decision-making of Canadians

While many Canadians lack basic financial literacy, mounting evidence from behavioural economics suggests that financial decisions are also frequently undermined by psychological factors. Even with the requisite financial knowledge and literacy skills, people are prone to various kinds of cognitive biases when making financial decisions such as those related to evaluating risk and uncertainty or the time value of money. This project undertakes an analysis of the 2014 Canadian Financial Capability Survey (CFCS) with the aim of understanding the role of cognitive biases in the financial decision-making of Canadians, with a particular focus on youth, aboriginals, and those with low incomes.

Start-end date: September 2015 - March 2016
Sponsor: Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Long-term impacts of the Life After High School program in BC

This project extends analysis from SRDC’s previous study of the Impact of Lowering Non-financial Barriers on Access to Post-secondary Education (Life After High School) in British Columbia. The intervention tested a sequence of three workshops delivered to high schools’ Grade 12 students intended to encourage the students to apply for post-secondary education and related student financial aid. A total of 50 BC high schools with low rates of students entering post-secondary education are involved. Impacts on students’ enrolment and persistence in post-secondary education, use of student financial aid and program choices are investigated across key subgroups defined by Aboriginal status, gender and high school achievement.

Start-end date: January 2015 - January 2016
Sponsor: Max Bell Foundation

Life After High School Ontario – Phase II

A pilot project to develop and test streamlined options for delivery of the Life After High School program in Ontario. The program options provide Grade 12 students at selected Ontario secondary schools with practical support applying for post-secondary education and financial aid. Students are guided through online tools and video in the process of selecting a post-secondary program of their choice, applying for a place in that program, and applying for financial aid. In the initial stage of the project, SRDC provided consulting services and a set of recommended models for test, including consideration of a variant model for Crown Wards. Following the selection of preferred models, the second stage commenced delivery of the options during the 2013-14 school year. Delivery models vary in order to assess the impact of paying the application fee of either the Ontario College Application Service (OCAS) or the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) and different forms of facilitation. This research project seeks to learn which models are most effective in supporting all Grade 12 students at a school to make applications for post-secondary studies and financial aid, and in increasing enrolment in further education.

Start-end date: April 2013 - March 2016
Sponsor: Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Life After High School in Ontario

A pilot project to test an innovative program called Life After High School in Ontario. Starting in October 2011, the program provides Grade 12 students at selected Ontario secondary schools with practical support applying for post-secondary education and financial aid. In three on-line facilitated workshops at 43 schools, students are guided through the process of selecting a post-secondary program of their choice, applying for a place in that program, and applying for financial aid. The application fee of either the Ontario College Application Service (OCAS) or the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) is covered by the program. This research project seeks to learn whether supporting all Grade 12 students at a school in making real applications for post-secondary studies and financial aid increases enrolment in further education.

Start-end date: May 2011 - March 2015
Sponsor: Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Navigating the Labour Market

A short-term classroom economic experiment to probe the relationship between literacy and labour market knowledge, and to assess the impact of a short labour market information intervention on labour market knowledge.

Start-end date: January 2008 - July 2008
Sponsor: Human Resources and Social Development Canada

Willingness to Pay for Post-secondary Education Among Under-represented Groups

A study to evaluate high-school students’ debt aversion or willingness to incur debt to access post-secondary education. The study focuses in particular on the decision-making process of youth from low SES families, Aboriginal families, and rural sectors, and on first generation students. Participants are tested for numeracy, risk, and time preferences. A sample of 1,400 students in 14 schools across 4 provinces took part in this project.

Start-end date: May 2007 - December 2009
Sponsor: Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation
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Fostering Adult Education: The Efficient Use of Loans, Grants, and Savings Incentives

An examination of the barriers to adult education and the relative attractiveness of alternative forms of student financial assistance to encourage investment in education.

Start-end date: April 2002 - December 2004
Sponsor: Human Resources Development Canada (Applied Research Branch and Canada Student Loans Program)

Potential use of an Economic Experiment to Examine Issues Related to Student Financial Aid

Start-end date: December 2001 - December 2001
Sponsor: Human Resources Development Canada

Will the Working Poor Invest in Human Capital?

An examination of people’s willingness to delay consumption, to invest in education for themselves or their children, and their reaction to risk.

Start-end date: September 2001 - February 2002
Sponsor: Human Resources Development Canada