Fast Food and Financial Impatience: A Socioecological Approach

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Abstract

We investigated whether the prevalence of fast-food restaurants in the social ecology are associated with greater financial impatience at the national, neighborhood, and individual level. Study 1 shows that the proliferation of fast-food restaurants over the past 3 decades in the developed world was associated with a historic shift in financial impatience, as manifested in precipitously declining household savings rates. Study 2 finds that households saved less when living in neighborhoods with a higher concentration of fast-food restaurants relative to full-service restaurants. With a direct measure of individuals’ delay discounting preferences, Study 3 confirms that a higher concentration of fast-food restaurants within one’s neighborhood is associated with greater financial impatience. In line with a causal relationship, Study 4 reveals that recalling a recent fast-food, as opposed to full-service, dining experience at restaurants within the same neighborhood induced greater delay discounting, which was mediated behaviorally by how quickly participants completed the recall task itself. Finally, Study 5 demonstrates that pedestrians walking down the same urban street exhibited greater delay discounting in their choice of financial reward if they were surveyed in front of a fast-food restaurant, compared to a full-service restaurant. Collectively, these data indicate a link between the prevalence of fast food and financial impatience across multiple levels of analysis, and suggest the plausibility of fast food having a reinforcing effect on financial impatience. The present investigation highlights how the pervasiveness of organizational cues in the everyday social ecology can have a far-ranging influence.

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