MIT Report Finds Bitcoin More Likely to be Spent than Hoarded

New data released by MIT suggests that bitcoin hoarding is not the problem critics believe it to be.

AccessTimeIconFeb 14, 2014 at 8:04 p.m. UTC
Updated Apr 10, 2024 at 2:44 a.m. UTC
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Newly released research from the MIT Technology Review, a faculty-run university magazine, suggests that new bitcoins are increasingly being spent, not hoarded, by users after purchase.

The data illustrates that the number of unspent, new bitcoins has declined drastically from 2009, when nearly half of all new bitcoins were held for the entire first year of ownership. Today, the vast majority of new bitcoins are spent within 24 hours, the findings suggest.

led the researchers to conclude:

"New bitcoins are now more likely to be spent than hoarded by speculators."

Such findings provide evidence that bitcoin is evolving as a currency, and that while far from mass adoption, liquidity is on the rise in the system. Though, no formal definition of "spending" was given to fully clarify the data.

Data was drawn from a variety of sources, including bitcoin wallet provider Blockchain, Bitcoin Charts, Coinmarketcap and bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox.

Further, Sarah Meiklejohn, one of the most well-known block chain analysts, compiled the data.

A closer look at the data

For its research, MIT examined bitcoin data from 2009 through 2013, and found that the vast majority of transactions conducted with new bitcoins occurred within seven days of their generation.

Hard percentages were not provided on the released material.

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There was also a visible decline in transactions completed after one to 12 months of ownership, and those spent after one year of ownership, with the later category all but disappearing from the graph starting in 2012.

The number of new bitcoins that went unspent did rise from 2011 to 2013, but this level was down from figures observed in 2009 and 2010.

had previously suggested that as much as 78% of all bitcoins were being saved for later use.

Debunking hoarding

The report is relevant as it directly rebuffs the arguments of bitcoin critics, who have argued that the lack of bitcoin spending is indicative of its inability to "ignite" as a payments system.

Such arguments have contended that, compared to traditional payment products, bitcoin's development has been slow, and that this is a sign that it will not evolve as a payment system or that it is not ready for large-scale use.

The issue of bitcoin's perceived lack of liquidity, for example, was a major point of discussion during the first day of NYDFS regulator hearings in New York. Such speculation is likely fueled by polls that suggest bitcoin users are increasingly bullish about its value, and therefore unwilling to part with their coins.

This argument is perhaps best explained by Wired editor Cade Metz:

"If economic incentives encourage people to hoard their bitcoins rather than spend them, the thinking goes, the currency will never fulfill the extravagant promises laid down by the biggest believers, who say it will streamline monetary transactions, free the world from the financial manipulation of big government and big banks, breakdown the financial walls between nations, and, well, remake the worldwide economy."

However, the MIT report suggests that the increasing number of merchants and consumers using bitcoin is changing the ecosystem, and that this rise in spending could continue as bitcoin use among both demographics increases.

Image credit: Cash beneath mattress via Shutterstock


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