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Informal Risk Sharing in an Infinite-horizon Experiment

  • Charness, Gary B
  • Genicot, Garance

This paper presents the first laboratory study of risk-sharing without commitment. Our experiment captures the main features of a simple model of voluntary insurance between two agents. In the model, two individuals interact over a potential infinite horizon and suffer random income shocks. Risk-averse individuals have incentives to smooth consumption by making transfers to each other. These transfers being voluntary, only self-enforcing risk-sharing arrangements are possible: transfers can never be so large as to tempt individuals to renege on them. This constraint, when binding, has strong implications for the shape of the constrained optimal risk-sharing arrangement. In our experiment, participants are matched in pairs. Each period, one of them, randomly drawn, receives a given amount in addition to its regular income. After observing both incomes, each person in a pair chooses a non-negative transfer to make to the other person. Two features of the experimental design are crucial. First, it is common information that all pairs will be dissolved at the end of each period with a given probability. Participants are informed when this occurs and randomly re-matched. This replicates the effect of infinite-horizon and discounting in the model. Second, at the end of the experiment, a single period is randomly drawn to count for cash payment. This feature is essential for individuals to care about the utility outcome of each period. We find evidence generally consistent with risk sharing, with most transfers coming from individuals who received h in the period. Moreover, in support of the theory, transfers are much higher with a higher continuation probability and they also are highly correlated with the individual’s degree of risk aversion. However, while the model predicts an increase in transfers with ex ante inequality, we observe the opposite effect. This may reflect considerations of identity or group membership.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara in its series University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt9sn8t91g.

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Date of creation: 01 Feb 2008
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt9sn8t91g
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  1. Townsend, Robert M, 1994. "Risk and Insurance in Village India," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(3), pages 539-91, May.
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  8. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt4qz9k8vg, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  9. Kletzer, Kenneth M. & Wright, Brian D., 1998. "Sovereign Debt as Intertemporal Barter," Center for International and Development Economics Research, Working Paper Series qt4qg3c42v, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  10. Ethan Ligon & Jonathan P. Thomas & Tim Worrall, 2002. "Informal Insurance Arrangements with Limited Commitment: Theory and Evidence from Village Economies," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 209-244.
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  13. Pramila Krishnan & Stefan Dercon, 1997. "In sickness and in health ... risk-sharing within households in rural Ethiopia," CSAE Working Paper Series 1997-12, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  14. Uri Gneezy & Jan Potters, 1997. "An Experiment on Risk Taking and Evaluation Periods," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 631-645.
  15. Coate, Stephen & Ravallion, Martin, 1993. "Reciprocity without commitment : Characterization and performance of informal insurance arrangements," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 1-24, February.
  16. Jalan, Jyotsna & Ravallion, Martin, 1999. "Are the poor less well insured? Evidence on vulnerability to income risk in rural China," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 61-81, February.
  17. John Duffy & Jack Ochs, 2004. "Cooperative Behavior and the Frequency of Social Interaction," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000108, UCLA Department of Economics.
  18. Masaki Aoyagi & Guillaume R. Frechette, 2004. "Collusion in Repeated Games with Imperfect Public Monitoring," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000127, UCLA Department of Economics.
  19. Selten, Reinhard & Abdolkarim Sadrieh & Klaus Abbink, 1995. "Money does Not Induce Risk Neutral Behavior, but Binary Lotteries Do even Worse," Discussion Paper Serie B 343, University of Bonn, Germany.
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  21. John Bone & John Hey & John Suckling, 2004. "A Simple Risk-Sharing Experiment," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 28(1), pages 23-38, January.
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