Adam Greenberg, a Researcher Who Wants to Affect People Around Him

Adam Greenberg, a Researcher Who Wants to Affect People Around Him


«I am motivated by the fact that small insights I share with someone next to me on an airplane can help them improve their well-being», Adam Eric Greenberg says. Most likely, that person next to him on a plane will make an important financial choice in the near future. Greenberg, a newly-appointed Assistant Professor at the Department of Marketing, is interested in knowing how people think about their finances. As of lately, his research has focused on how consumers make decisions and form judgments about debt. As he says: «Not all debts are the same».
Greenberg was initially drawn to academia during his undergraduate years at Vassar College, NY. He recalls that, at the time, he chose academia because he «really wanted to be an Economics professor». After a summer at the Urban Institute, a public policy think-tank in Washington, DC, his interest in pursuing research that would have an impact on people’s lives was solidified. When he graduated from the college, he moved from New York to California for a year-long research fellowship at Stanford Law School, after which he began studying in the Economics Ph.D. program at the University of California, San Diego.
In college, Greenberg was intrigued by topics in behavioral economics. Why do people tip in restaurants? Why do people undersave? Why do people care about social norms? His interest in the intersection of Economics and Psychology led him to focus on Behavioral Economics in graduate school, where his dissertation focused on prosocial and antisocial behavior in economic contexts. However, throughout the course of his graduate studies, Greenberg’s interests shifted from more standard economics topics to ideas that were broadly related to consumer behavior, including consumer financial decision making. He was invited to work with leaders in that field at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he was a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Marketing from 2016 to 2018 before coming to Bocconi.
Most recently, he published work on what he calls financial product sensitivity, «a fancy phrase for how much people differentiate between financial products within a given category». He and his colleagues found that the more people think that all debts are the same, the less financially healthy they are. People who are relatively less averse to low-interest debt than to high-interest debt tend to do better – financially speaking – than those who think that all debts are bad. «Nudging people toward differentiating between financial products promotes decisions that are better aligned with financial health».
Greenberg also looks at how debt affects subjective well-being. «There is a lot of literature on the relationship between income and happiness, but relatively little research has examined the effects of debt», he says. In the US, although mortgages are the largest debts people have, and credit cards tend to have high interest rates, it is student loan debt that is most consistently, and negatively, correlated with life satisfaction. Greenberg found that some people do not mentally label mortgages as debt, whereas they associate student loans with a feeling of indebtedness that typically has a negative impact on their lives.
Talking about his year-long experience at Bocconi, Greenberg says he is excited to be part of a relatively young, fast-growing, and research-active department. «The faculty work on interesting and important problems, but we can also enjoy regular aperitivi». This is his first time living outside the US. «I came to Milan with two big suitcases and my Doberman-Whippet, Buffy, whom you may see walking around campus with me». He is also fascinated by philosophy and religion – he actually minored in religion at Vassar. «And I love the food here. Coming from overseas, I did not realize that every Italian city has its own special pasta or salami. It’s been fun to learn about all of the different regional cucine tipiche», he says in Italian.
Find out more
Adam Eric Greenberg, Abigail B. Sussman, Hal E. Hershfield, Financial Product Sensitivity Predicts Financial Health, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, in press.
Adam Eric Greenberg, Hal E. Hershfield, On Shifting Consumers from High-Interest to Low-Interest Debt, in Financial Planning Review, 2 (1), e1035, 2019.
Adam Eric Greenberg, Cassie Mogilner, Consumer Debt and Satisfaction in Life, working paper.

by Claudio Todesco


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