Background ‘Time preference’ is an economic concept that describes the trade-offs that individuals make between costs and benefits occurring at different points of time. Related psychological concepts include time perspective, impulsivity and delay of gratification. Present orientated people prefer immediate over future gains and place more value on these. Differences in how much value different individuals place on future outcomes are likely to play some role in present day behavioural decisions.
There is substantial cross-sectional evidence that smokers tend to have shorter term time preferences than non-smokers. However, few studies have explored the longitudinal relationship between time preference and smoking cessation.
We explored the relationship between time preference and smoking cessation in a general adult cohort using data from a large Australian longitudinal panel study: the Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia (HILDA) survey.
Methods HILDA is a longitudinal, nationally representative, household survey which began in 2001. The focus of the survey is on economic and subjective well-being, and labour market and family dynamics. Data is collected by annual interview and self-complete questionnaire.
Members of the HILDA panel, aged 15–64, who responded to at least four waves of data collection between 2001 and 2008, and reported any level of tobacco consumption at any wave were included in the analyses.
Smoking cessation was measured using self-report questions. Time preference was measured using self-reported time period for financial planning. A range of sociodemographic (age, number of children, various markers of socio-economic position) and smoking-related (previous quit attempts, years smoked) co-variates were controlled for.
Results 1,817 individuals (representing 7,913 unique observations) were included in the analyses. In univariable analyses, both men and women who reported quitting smoking were more likely to have a longer term time preference in the data collection period immediately prior to quitting than those who did not quit (men: t(4,126)=4.59, p<0.001; women: t(3,783)=7.18, p<0.001). These relationships persisted after control for socio-demographic and smoking-related covariates (hazard ratio of quitting in those with longer vs shorter term time preference (95% confidence intervals) = 1.27 (1.03 – 1.57) in men; 1.31 (1.05 – 1.63) in women).
Conclusion Adult smokers with a longer term time preference are more likely to quit smoking. This does not exclude the possibility that quitting smoking simultaneously leads to development of longer term time preference. Interventions that encourage development of longer term time preference may enable smoking cessation.
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