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Diminishing Marginal Utility of Wealth Cannot Explain Risk Aversion

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  • Rabin, Matthew

Abstract

Arrow (1971) shows that an expected-utility maximizer with a differentiable utility function will always want to take a sufficiently small stake in any positive-expected-value bet. That is, expected-utility maximizers are arbitrarily close to risk neutral when stakes are arbitrarily small. While most economists understand this formal limit result, fewer appreciate that the approximate risk-neutrality prediction holds not just for very small stakes, but for quite sizable and economically important stakes. Diminishing marginal utility of wealth is not a plausible explanation of people's aversion to risk on the scale of $10, $100, $1000 or even more. After illustrating and providing intuition for these claims, I shall argue that economists often reach misleading conclusions by invoking expected-utility theory to explain substantial risk aversion in contexts where the theory actually predicts virtual risk neutrality.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley in its series Department of Economics, Working Paper Series with number qt61d7b4pg.

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Date of creation: 09 Jun 2000
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:econwp:qt61d7b4pg

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Keywords: risk aversion;

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  1. Mankiw, N.G. & Zeldes, S.P., 1990. "The Consumption Of Stockholders And Non-Stockholders," Weiss Center Working Papers 23-90, Wharton School - Weiss Center for International Financial Research.
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