Consumption smoothing and the welfare cost of uncertainty

Produced as part of the Adaptation to climate change and human development CCCEP research programme theme

When agents are unable to smooth consumption and have distorted beliefs about the likelihood of future income realisations, uncertainty about future states of the world has a direct effect on individual welfare. However, separating the effects of uncertainty from realised events and identifying the welfare effects of uncertainty both present a number of empirical challenges. Combining individual-level panel data from rural and urban Ethiopia with high-resolution meteorological data, we estimate the empirical relevance of uncertainty on objective consumption and subjective well-being. While negative income shocks affect both objective consumption measures and subjective well-being, greater income uncertainty only has an affect on subjective well-being. A one standard deviation change in income uncertainty is equivalent to a one standard deviation change in realised consumption. These results indicate that the welfare gains from further consumption smoothing are substantially greater than estimates based solely on consumption fluctuations.