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Risk Aversion, Wealth and Background Risk

  • Luigi Guiso
  • Monica Paiella


We use household survey data to construct a direct measure of absolute risk aversion based on the maximum price a consumer is willing to pay to buy a risky security. We relate this measure to consumers' endowment and attributes and to measures of background risk and liquidity constraints. We find that risk aversion is a decreasing function of endowment - thus rejecting CARA preferences - but the elasticity to consumption is far below the unitary value predicted by the CRRA utility. We also find that households' attributes are of little help in predicting their degree of risk aversion, which is characterized by massive unexplained heterogeneity. However, the consumers' environment affects risk aversion. Individuals who are more likely to face income uncertainty or to become liquidity constrained exhibit a higher degree of absolute risk aversion, consistent with recent theories of attitudes towards risk in the presence of uninsurable risks.

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Paper provided by Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area in its series Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) with number 483.

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Date of creation: Sep 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bdi:wptemi:td_483_03
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  1. Matthew Rabin, 2001. "Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem," Method and Hist of Econ Thought 0012001, EconWPA.
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  4. Heaton, John & Lucas, Deborah, 2000. "Portfolio Choice in the Presence of Background Risk," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(460), pages 1-26, January.
  5. Luigi Guiso & Tullio Jappelli, 2000. "Household Portfolios in Italy," CSEF Working Papers 43, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
  6. Christopher D. Carroll, 2000. "Portfolios of the Rich," NBER Working Papers 7826, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Cascio, Elizabeth U. & Lewis, Ethan Gatewood, 2005. "Schooling and the AFQT: Evidence from School Entry Laws," IZA Discussion Papers 1481, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. EECKHOUDT, Louis & Christian GOLLIER & Harris SCHLESINGER, 1994. "Changes in Background Risk and Risk Taking Behavior," Working Papers 005, Risk and Insurance Archive.
  10. Hennessy, David A. & Lapan, Harvey E., 2006. "On the Nature of Certainty Equivalent Functionals," Staff General Research Papers 12552, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  11. Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi, 2000. "The Role of Social Capital In Financial Development," CEPR Discussion Papers 2383, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  12. Daniel J. Benjamin & Sebastian A. Brown & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2006. "Who is “Behavioral”? Cognitive Ability and Anomalous Preferences," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000001334, David K. Levine.
  13. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-92, July.
  14. Joël Peress, 2004. "Wealth, Information Acquisition, and Portfolio Choice," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 17(3), pages 879-914.
  15. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. " Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
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  17. Luigi Guiso & Monica Paiella, 2003. "Risk Aversion, Wealth and Background Risk," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 483, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  18. Kimball, Miles S, 1993. "Standard Risk Aversion," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(3), pages 589-611, May.
  19. Shane Frederick, 2005. "Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 25-42, Fall.
  20. Guiso, Luigi & Jappelli, Tullio & Pistaferri, Luigi, 2002. "An Empirical Analysis of Earnings and Employment Risk," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(2), pages 241-53, April.
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  27. Guiso, Luigi & Jappelli, Tullio & Terlizzese, Daniele, 1996. "Income Risk, Borrowing Constraints, and Portfolio Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(1), pages 158-72, March.
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  29. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
  30. James J. Heckman, 1976. "The Common Structure of Statistical Models of Truncation, Sample Selection and Limited Dependent Variables and a Simple Estimator for Such Models," NBER Chapters, in: Annals of Economic and Social Measurement, Volume 5, number 4, pages 475-492 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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