Does Respondent Perception of the Status Quo Matter in Non-Market Valuation with Choice Experiments? An Application to New Zealand Freshwater Streams

In environmental valuation studies with stated preference methods, researchers often provide descriptions of status quo conditions which may differ from those perceived by respondents. Ignoring this difference in utility baselines may affect the magnitude of utility changes and hence bias the imp… lied estimates of benefits from the proposed environmental policies. We investigate this issue using data from a choice experiment on a community’s willingness to pay for water quality improvements in streams. More than 60 percent of respondents perceived the description of the quality of water in streams to be better than the one we provided in our scenario. Our results show that respondents who could provide details of their perception of the status quo displayed stronger preferences for water quality improvements – hence a higher marginal willingness to pay – than their counterparts. Respondents who opted for their own status quo description displayed a higher inclination to remain in the status quo, while their counterparts displayed the contrary. We argue this might be linked to the amount of knowledge each group displayed about the status quo: a kind of reluctance to leave what one knows well.