Price perceptions in water demand

Daniel A. Brent, Michael Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Economists advocate for using the price mechanism to manage water scarcity, but complex nonlinear rate structures prevalent in markets for municipal water obscure price signals. We conduct a randomized field experiment that jointly elicits knowledge about the cost of water and examines the impact of improved information on demand by linking a survey to water billing records. Half of our sample of 30,000 single family homeowners are randomly sent an invitation to a survey that asks questions about the water bill and the costs of water-use activities (e.g. the cost of taking a shower), and subsequently provides personalized accurate information. Results show that consumers have poor information about the marginal price of water and overestimate the costs of using water. Respondents are relatively better informed about their total bill and water consumption. In aggregate, respondents increase water use in response to the survey, potentially due to learning that water is cheaper than they previously thought. Increased consumption is concentrated among low users who are more likely to over-estimate the costs of using water.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102266
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Environmental Economics and Management
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Behavioral economics
  • Demand elasticity
  • Economics of information
  • Experimental economics
  • Water demand

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