Time Preference

Updated on April 26, 2024
Article byKhalid Ahmed
Edited byKhalid Ahmed
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Time Preference?

Time preference refers to the present relative value placed on receiving cash or goods at an earlier date compared to a later date. It aims to help economists understand how individuals make investment, savings, and consumption decisions.

Time Preference

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It affects investment decisions, overall economic activity, and consumption. It also plays a role in calculating the net present value (NPV) related to expenses and future earnings. It has applications in various fields, such as psychology, economics, and finance. It influences the rate of return for investments, self-control, and the study of intertemporal decision-making in psychology.

Key Takeaways

  • Time preference refers to how individuals value money or goods in the present compared to the future, which is crucial for understanding their decisions regarding investment, savings, and consumption.
  • Various factors, including immediate needs, uncertainty, opportunity costs, income levels, health considerations, and demographic factors influence it. Individuals often prioritize immediate satisfaction over future benefits.
  • High-time preference individuals prioritize immediate values of money, while low-time preference individuals tend to consider future needs and values of money.
  • The concept also reflects an individual’s inherent choice for present rewards, whereas time discounting is the process of assigning lower value to future rewards.

Time Preference Of Money Explained

Time preference in economics describes the tendency of individuals to value present satisfaction more than future satisfaction. It is a concept based on time preference theory, which revolves around an individual’s preference for immediate gratification from money. Some individuals have high time preferences and prioritize instant satisfaction from the present value of the dollar over tomorrow, and vice versa for individuals with low time preferences. Hence, it can be said that the rate of time preference reflects the degree to which individuals devalue future outcomes when making financial decisions that affect their savings or spending habits.

It is a financial concept where one believes that the value of one dollar today has more value than the same dollar in the future. This is because, with time, inflation harms the value of the dollar in the future. The time value of money states and shows that if all the factors remain constant and equal, then it becomes valuable to have money now instead of having it later. It has negative implications for investments and economic growth, as individuals with high time preferences tend to prioritize immediate consumption over saving and investing for the future. However, the opposite is true for individuals with low time preferences.


Reasons for an individual’s time preference for money are:

1. Present Needs: Individuals often prioritize present money over future money due to their current financial obligations or desires.

2. Uncertainty: People prefer immediate satisfaction due to the uncertainty of future outcomes.

3. Opportunity Cost: The decision to invest or use money now instead of later also influences.

4. Income levels: Individuals in lower-income groups tend to prefer immediate cash over future value.

5. Health factor: People with physical illnesses also tend to prioritize immediate cash.

6. Demographics: Various demographic factors such as age, sex, education, and marital status influence the preference for immediate cash.


Let us look into a few examples:

Example #1

Imagine Anna needing to borrow money to buy a new car. Anna has two options: take out a loan and pay it back over five years, or save up money for five years and buy the car outright. If Anna chooses the loan, she is prioritizing having the car sooner over waiting and saving up. This decision reflects Anna’s preference – to have the car now rather than waiting to save up for it.

Example #2

Another example describes how understanding time preference is crucial in analyzing how individuals prioritize their financial decisions, including news consumption habits. As economic pressures prompt reevaluation of spending behaviors, individuals weigh the immediate benefits of news access against long-term financial goals. This consideration of preference influences subscription behaviors and reflects broader trends in media consumption, such as the rise of video content and reliance on social media platforms. By recognizing the interconnection between time preference and financial decision-making, media organizations can adapt their strategies to better meet the evolving needs of audiences amidst changing economic and technological landscapes.

High Time Preference vs Low Time Preference

The differences between the two are as follows:

High Time PreferenceLow Time Preference
Focuses on present values of moneyPrefers to look at future needs and values of money
Considers current needsFocuses on future needs
Characteristics of an impulsive and quick gratification-deriving individualCharacteristics of patience and delayed gratification.
Motivated towards short-term gratificationsMotivated towards long-term contentment
Leads to quick decisions in the absence of consideration of outcomes.Leads to the consideration of decisions regarding long-term implications.
Prevalent in current modern societiesMature and older societies use it the most.
Provides instant satisfaction, gratification, and impulsivity.Offers intentional, slow, and thoughtful actions.
Has the downside of rupturing long-term objectives.Allows for achieving long-term goals.

Time Preference vs Time Discounting

Both are related to each other, yet they have certain differences, as shown in the table below:

Time PreferenceTime Discounting
Individual’s inherent choice for present rewardsProcess of assigning lower value to future rewards
Specifically related to choice sooner than later rewardsIncludes probability, uncertainty, and taste changes for eliminating future utility.
Influenced by demographic factorInfluenced by impulsivity and other psychological tendencies.
Has  its anchor in the presentHas accountability for future results and advantages.
In certain contexts, it helps in evolutionary survival benefits.Promotes resource management and long-term success.
The root cause of overspending and consumer debtForms the basis of future gains and savings
Shows individual impulsivity and desires.Presents a logical assessment of future consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is social time preference?

Social time preference explains how much society prefers getting things sooner rather than later or incurring costs later rather than sooner. It’s like wanting something right away instead of waiting for it.

What is time preference patience? 

It explains how patient we are when it comes to waiting for things we desire. Economically, it’s called the ‘rate of time preference’. It’s similar to asking ourselves how much of our current enjoyment we’re willing to sacrifice. This sacrifice is made to potentially experience even greater enjoyment in the future.

What is subjective time preference? 

It is an important concept that describes an individual’s interest rate. In other words, it is more about individual feelings and attitudes toward waiting for things. It’s matched with a personal interest rate, often higher than banks offer. This shows how much an individual is willing to wait for future enjoyment, even if it means sacrificing some of the pleasure of consuming things right now.

This article has been a guide to what is Time Preference. We explain its reasons, examples, comparison with time discounting, & high vs low time preferences. You may also find some useful articles here –

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