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Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem

  • Matthew Rabin

Within the expected-utility framework, the only explanation for risk aversion is that the utility function for wealth is concave: A person has lower marginal utility for additional wealth when she is wealthy than when she is poor. This paper provides a theorem showing that expected-utility theory is an utterly implausible explanation for appreciable risk aversion over modest stakes: Within expected-utility theory, for any concave utility function, even very little risk aversion over modest stakes implies an absurd degree of risk aversion over large stakes. Illustrative calibrations are provided.

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Article provided by Econometric Society in its journal Econometrica.

Volume (Year): 68 (2000)
Issue (Month): 5 (September)
Pages: 1281-1292

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Handle: RePEc:ecm:emetrp:v:68:y:2000:i:5:p:1281-1292
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  1. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
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  8. Machina, Mark J, 1987. "Choice under Uncertainty: Problems Solved and Unsolved," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 121-54, Summer.
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  10. David Bowman & Deborah Minehart & Matthew Rabin, 1994. "Loss aversion in a consumption/savings model," International Finance Discussion Papers 492, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  11. Daniel Kahneman & Jack L. Knetsch & Richard H. Thaler, 1991. "Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 193-206, Winter.
  12. Harless, David W & Camerer, Colin F, 1994. "The Predictive Utility of Generalized Expected Utility Theories," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(6), pages 1251-89, November.
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