Categorizing Relative Water Use Perception Bias Using Household Surveys and Monthly Water Bills.

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Journal of Environmental Management

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We introduce the concept of relative water use perception bias to highlight the role of human relationships, social cues, and the built environment in household water consumption. Although previous studies have explored actual water use, it is also important to understand how people perceive their relative behaviors because humans are social animals and act in relation to each other. We combine household survey responses and water utility bills in a large sample of households to quantify the degree of over- and under-estimation bias in perceived relative household water use. We then use multi-level nested regression models to investigate four categories of potential influence: sociodemographic characteristics, perceived social norms, neighborhood characteristics, and water bill information. Results show that most households tended to view themselves as 'better than average' water users when they actually used more water compared to neighbors. Respondents in high-income households and those who are more concerned about water shortages were more likely to underestimate their relative water use (using comparatively more than they thought). However, in more suburbanized neighborhood environments, households were more likely to overestimate their relative water use (using comparatively less than they thought). We call the inaccuracy in assessing water usage compared to their neighbors' relative water use perception bias. We propose that a better understanding of this bias can aid the design of policy initiatives like neighborhood planning, better water bill design, targeted messaging, and social signaling. By bringing a relational lens to bear on water conservation studies, understanding relative water use perception bias sheds new light on the complex drivers of household water consumption.


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