Holly Dykstra

Faculty website

Dr. Holly Dykstra is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Konstanz. She is a behavioral economist studying how individuals make policy-relevant decisions, especially in household finance and for intertemporal choices.

She is an affiliate of the Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut and Harvard University's STAR Lab. In her research, she runs online experiments as well as field experiments in cooperation with partner organizations. She has conducted research with the Behavioral Insights Team, the Mayors Innovation Project, a number of private companies, and city and state government organizations across the U.S.

She holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard University and an A.B. in Economics from Columbia University. Prior to graduate school, she worked at the U.S. Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C.


Working Papers

The Buy-In Effect: When Increasing Initial Effort Motivates Behavioral Follow-Through (with Shibeal O'Flaherty and Ashley Whillans). R&R at Management Science.
ABSTRACT: Behavioral interventions often focus on reducing friction to encourage behavior change. In contrast, we provide evidence that adding friction can promote long-term behavior change when behaviors involve repeated costly efforts over longer time horizons. In collaboration with the Oregon Department of Transportation, we conducted a field experiment (N = 27,227) to test whether adding friction during an initial sign-up process for a new carpooling platform increases usage. Our results support this possibility: while a more effortful sign-up process led to a 25% decrease in sign-ups to the carpool platform, overall intensity of usage increased. Importantly, these results were only partly explained by selection effects: using an intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis, participants who were randomly assigned to the more effortful sign-up process took 1.6 times more carpool trips per day on average during a four-month period as compared to those in the less effortful sign-up process. Of the 9,417 observed trips, the more effortful sign-up group took almost 800 more trips. These effects persisted at eight months, where the ITT estimate was a 33% increase in trips per day. These results suggest that adding friction may be an overlooked strategy that could help to promote behavior change.
Patience Across Payday: The Role of Scarcity in Commitment Decisions. R&R at Journal of Political Economy Microeconomics.
  • Manuscript [PDF]
    ABSTRACT: Individuals often behave impatiently when making financial decisions for the future. This paper proposes and tests that the timing of decisions relative to payday—which leads to temporary but recurring conditions of scarcity—influences their choice. In a large pre-registered experiment, I ask participants to adopt a commitment device that binds them to being patient. Participants who make this decision eight days before their payday, rather than one day after payday, are 34% more likely to take up commitment. This coincides with when individuals experience the most financial scarcity, and provides evidence that intertemporal decisions are affected by current psychological states.
  • When Agents Give Up Agency: the Role of Decision Avoidance (with Christine Exley and Muriel Niederle)
    ABSTRACT: A common policy problem is that individuals reject recommended options and insist on making their own choices. Via a large-scale experiment, we document and investigate what factors contribute to this preference for agency. Our main results show that individuals' willingness to give up their agency increases when they are less determined about what they would choose. Additional results suggest that this is due to the fact that forgoing agency allows them to avoid making decisions.


    Nudging the Commute: Using Behaviorally-Informed Interventions to Promote Sustainable Transportation (with Michael Daly, Lyndsay Gavin, Shibeal O’Flaherty, Jessica Roberts, Joseph Sherlock, and Ashley Whillans) in Behavioral Science & Policy, 2021, 7(2), 27-49.
    ABSTRACT: Dramatic reductions in carbon emissions must take place immediately. A human-centric method of reducing environmental impacts is to “nudge” people away from single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) toward more sustainable commuting options. While an abundance of research has focused on external determinants of mode choice, we know much less about the behavioral determinants. The field of behavioral science is overdue for a focus on transportation. This paper is meant to facilitate communication between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in part by developing a behaviorally-informed framework that can be leveraged by policymakers, government, and organizations worldwide. We also describe the founding of our multidisciplinary team and outline lessons learned.

    Works in Progress

    Changing Incentives for Earnings in Public Housing: a Quasi-Experimental Investigation into the Federal Family Self-Sufficiency Program
    ABSTRACT: This paper investigates earnings incentives in public housing. For most people living in public housing, the cost of rent is tied to one's income, and an increase in income leads to an increase in rent. This creates a disincentive towards earning more. I study a federal program that removes this connection, allowing residents to stay at their baseline level rent even if their income rises. In partnership with the Cambridge Housing Authority, we automatically enroll some residents in public housing into this program and provide them with financial coaching through the Boston-based nonprofit Compass Working Capital. Using administrative data from all CHA residents, I use a difference-in-difference approach to estimate that enrollment into the program led to an increase of approximately $1,500 to $2,500 in annual income. In addition, I present the descriptive statistics from door-to-door baseline and endline surveys that investigate changes in participants’ psychological and financial wellbeing.


    University of Konstanz

    Graduate Courses

    Lecture: "Behavioral Public Economics"
    Summer Semester 2023, 2022
    Seminar: "Behavioral Economics and Policy"
    Winter Semester 2022/23
    Seminar: "Economics of Poverty"
    Winter Semester 2021/22

    Undergraduate Courses

    Seminar: "Development Microeconomics"
    Winter Semester 2023/24, 2022/23, 2021/22

    Harvard University

    Harvard Kennedy School

    "Quantitative Analysis and Empirical Methods"
    Teaching Fellow for Dan Levy
    Fall 2018
    "Fundamentals of Program and Policy Evaluation"
    Teaching Fellow for Janina Matuszeski
    Spring 2017, 2018, 2019

    Harvard College

    "The Political Economy of Globalization"
    Teaching Fellow for Robert Lawrence and Lawrence Summers
    Fall 2016, 2017, 2020