SFU Canada Research Chairs Seminar Series: "We Are Impatient Because We Die. But Why Do We Die?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009
11:30 - 12:30

Dr. Arthur Robson, Canada Research Chair in Economic Theory and Evolution
Department of Economics


A Darwinian perspective sheds light on why we are impatient, that is, why we discount future rewards. This evolutionary explanation derives from our basic demography during our history as hunter-gatherers. Given what must have been low long run rates of population growth, our impatience can be linked to our mortality. Roughly, we are impatient because we die. Indeed, a Darwinian perspective helps to explain how the rate of discount or impatience might vary with age. Although at first blush, this perspective might suggest that the old should be impatient to an unrealistic degree because their mortality rates are high, a fuller treatment produces greater patience.

About the Speaker

Arthur Robson received a B.Sc.(Hons) in mathematics from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, in 1968; and a Ph.D. in economics from MIT in 1975 under the supervision of Professor Robert M. Solow. He was an assistant, associate and full professor at the University of Western Ontario before moving to SFU in 2003. Currently, he is a full professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Economic Theory and Evolution in the Department of Economics. Dr. Robson is an international leader in theoretical and evolutionary economics. By bridging biology, anthropology, and economics, he has produced unique insights into the origin of economic preferences that are transforming how scientists look at economic behavior and economic theory in general. Dr. Robson has published influential articles in the top journals of the profession (for example, the Citations in Economics Project lists 290 scientific papers that have cited Dr. Robson's publications) and continues to break new ground with research on how evolution has shaped the links between longevity, intelligence, and aging.

In his current research, Prof. Robson is using data collected from contemporary hunter-gatherer societies as the inspiration for theoretical models of the evolution of economic characteristics. These characteristics include attitudes toward risk, time preference, social status, the quality and quantity of children, intelligence, and longevity, for example.