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Estimating Second Order Probability Beliefs from Subjective Survival Data

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  • Péter Hudomiet
  • Robert J. Willis

Abstract

Based on subjective survival probability questions in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), we use an econometric model to estimate the determinants of individual-level uncertainty about personal longevity. This model is built around the Modal Response Hypothesis (MRH), a mathematical expression of the idea that survey responses of 0, 50 or 100 percent to probability questions indicate a high level of uncertainty about the relevant probability. We show that subjective survival expectations in 2002 line up very well with realized mortality of the HRS respondents between 2002 and 2010. We show that the MRH model performs better than typically used models in the literature of subjective probabilities. Our model gives more accurate estimates of low probability events and it is able to predict the unusually high fraction of focal 0, 50 and 100 answers observed in many datasets on subjective probabilities. We show that subjects place too much weight on parents’ age at death when forming expectations about their own longevity, while other covariates such as demographics, cognition, personality, subjective health and health behavior are underweighted. We also find that less educated people, smokers and women have less certain beliefs; and recent health shocks increase uncertainty about survival, too.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18258.

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Date of creation: Jul 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18258

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  1. Manski, Charles F. & Molinari, Francesca, 2010. "Rounding Probabilistic Expectations in Surveys," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 28(2), pages 219-231.
  2. Bommier, Antoine & Villeneuve, Bertrand, 2008. "Risk Aversion and the Value of Risk to Life," MPRA Paper 11943, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Gabriel Picone & Frank Sloan & Donald Taylor, 2004. "Effects of Risk and Time Preference and Expected Longevity on Demand for Medical Tests," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 28(1), pages 39-53, January.
  4. Engelberg, Joseph & Manski, Charles F. & Williams, Jared, 2009. "Comparing the Point Predictions and Subjective Probability Distributions of Professional Forecasters," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 27, pages 30-41.
  5. V. Kerry Smith & Donald H. Taylor & Frank A. Sloan, 2001. "Longevity Expectations and Death: Can People Predict Their Own Demise?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 1126-1134, September.
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Cited by:
  1. Frank Sloan & Lindsey Eldred & Tong Guo & Yanzhi Xu, 2013. "Are people overoptimistic about the effects of heavy drinking?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 47(1), pages 93-127, August.

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