A currency’s essential feature is to be a medium of exchange. This study explores the potential of cryptocurrencies to be used in daily transactions in El Salvador, the first country to make bitcoin legal tender. The government’s “big push” introduced “Chivo Wallet,” a digital wallet sharing features with Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), with perks to use it for trading bitcoins and US dollars. Through a nationally representative, face-to-face survey of 1800 households and blockchain data encompassing all Chivo Wallet transactions, we document a pattern of low and decreasing usage of digital payments and bitcoin. Privacy and security concerns are key adoption barriers, which speaks to a policy debate on crypto and CBDCs with anonymity at its core. Additionally, we estimate Chivo Wallet’s adoption cost and complementarities among adopters.


Alvarez, Fernando, David Argente, and Diana Van Patten. 2023. "Are cryptocurrencies currencies? Bitcoin as legal tender in El Salvador." Science 382 (6677). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.add2844.