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Happiness as a Driver of Risk-Avoiding Behavior

  • Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
  • Robert J. B. Goudie
  • Sach Mukherjee
  • Andrew J. Oswald
  • Stephen Wu

Most governments try to discourage their citizens from taking extreme risks with their health and lives. Yet, for reasons not understood, many people continue to do so. We suggest a new approach to this longstanding question. First, we show that expected-utility theory predicts that 'happier' people will be less attracted to risky behaviors. Second, using BRFSS data on seatbelt use in a sample of 300,000 Americans, we document evidence strongly consistent with that prediction. Our result is demonstrated with various methodological approaches, including Bayesian model-selection and instrumental-variable estimation (based on unhappiness caused by widowhood). Third, using data on road accidents from the Add Health data set, we find strongly corroborative longitudinal evidence. These results suggest that government policy may need to address the underlying happiness of individuals rather than focus on behavioural symptoms.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp1126.

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Date of creation: Feb 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp1126
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  1. Oswald, A.J., 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Papers 18, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
  2. Clark, A.; & Etilé, F.;, 2010. "Happy House: Spousal weight and individual well-being," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 10/10, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
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  12. Offer, Avner & Pechey, Rachel & Ulijaszek, Stanley, 2010. "Obesity under affluence varies by welfare regimes: The effect of fast food, insecurity, and inequality," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 297-308, December.
  13. Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2011. "Money and Happiness: Evidence from the Industry Wage Structure," CEP Discussion Papers dp1051, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  14. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Alex Rees-Jones, 2010. "Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys," NBER Working Papers 16489, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  27. W. Viscusi, 2009. "Valuing risks of death from terrorism and natural disasters," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 38(3), pages 191-213, June.
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  29. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
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