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Individual Risk Attitudes: New Evidence from a Large, Representative, Experimentally-Validated Survey

  • Dohmen, Thomas J
  • Falk, Armin
  • Huffman, David
  • Schupp, Jürgen
  • Sunde, Uwe
  • Wagner, Gert Georg

This paper presents new evidence on the distribution of risk attitudes in the population, using a novel set of survey questions and a representative sample of roughly 22,000 individuals living in Germany. Using a question that asks about willingness to take risks in general, on an 11-point scale, we find evidence of heterogeneity across individuals, and show that willingness to take risks is negatively related to age and being female, and positively related to height and parental education. We test the behavioral relevance of this survey measure by conducting a complementary field experiment, based on a representative sample of 450 subjects, and find that the general risk question is a good predictor of actual risk-taking behavior. We then use a more standard lottery question to measure risk preferences in our sample of 22,000, and find similar results regarding heterogeneity and determinants of risk preferences, compared to the general risk question. The lottery question also makes it possible to estimate the coefficient of relative risk aversion for each individual in the sample. Using five questions about willingness to take risks in specific domains - car driving, financial matters, sports and leisure, career, and health - the paper also studies the impact of context on risk attitudes, finding a strong but imperfect correlation across contexts. Using data on a collection of risky behaviors from different contexts, including traffic offences, portfolio choice, smoking, occupational choice, participation in sports, and migration, the paper compares the predictive power of all of the risk measures. Strikingly, the general risk question predicts all behaviors whereas the standard lottery measure does not. The best predictor for any specific behavior is typically the corresponding context-specific measure.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 5517.

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Date of creation: Feb 2006
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5517
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