A Cognitive Load for Two: Anticipation of Financial Scarcity due to Maternity Leave Type Impacts Cognitive Functioning and Pregnancy-Related Health Behaviors

Mehta, Mira [Browse]
Senior thesis
48 pages


Shafir, Eldar [Browse]
Conway, Andrew [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
According to emerging literature on the psychology of scarcity, when one experiences scarcity, persistent and distracting concerns related to their lack of resources captures their attention, which in turn, taxes their cognitive bandwidth and impacts their behaviors and decisions (Mullainathan & Shafir, 2013). However, there is a lack of research regarding the impact of and individual’s anticipation of scarcity or future scarcity. We predict that the anticipation of scarcity has the same cognitive and behavioral effect, as scarcity felt at present. Specifically, we hypothesize that women who face unpaid maternity leave, experience the anticipation of financial scarcity or future financial scarcity mindset that captures their attention, depletes their cognitive resources, and impacts their health- related behaviors. In the experiment, we induced thoughts about one’s maternity leave and financial future relating to the leave, and found that this significantly reduced the cognitive performance of the employed, pregnant women who were anticipated taking some form of unpaid maternity leave, as compared to those with employer provided paid maternity leave. Additionally, we found mixed results with regard to the relationship between maternity leave type and prenatal care behaviors.

Supplementary Information