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Does Propitious Selection Explain Why Riskier People Buy Less Insurance?

  • De Donder, Philippe
  • Hindriks, Jean J.G.

Empirical testing of asymmetric information in the insurance market has uncovered a negative correlation between risk levels and insurance purchases, rather than the positive correlation predicted by the standard insurance theory. Hemenway (1990) proposes an explanation for this negative correlation, called 'propitious selection''. He argues that potential insurance buyers have different tastes for risk and that 'individuals who are highly risk avoiding are more likely both to try to reduce the hazard and to purchase insurance' (p. 1064). Chiappori and Salanié (2000) also suggest that this line of argument, which they call 'cherry picking', may explain the observed negative correlation. In this paper, we show that the propitious selection argument does not imply negative correlation between risk levels and insurance purchases, be-cause it fails to take into account the supply side of the insurance market. To illustrate this claim, we provide a model where, although we assume that individuals differ in risk aversion and that the more risk averse individuals exert more precaution and buy more insurance, we end up with a positive correlation between risk and insurance purchases at equilibrium. The reason is that, in any separating equilibrium, the more risk averse individuals face insurance overprovision which, combined with moral hazard, increases their risk relative to the less risk averse individuals. To obtain the negative correlation between risk and insurance purchases, one further needs the extra condition of decreasing marginal willingness to pay for the less risk averse individuals. Finally, we find that propitious selection has profound policy implications for social insurance.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 5640.

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Date of creation: Apr 2006
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5640
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  1. Bruno Jullien & Bernard Salanié & François Salanié, 2000. "Screening Risk-Averse Agents Under Moral Hazard," Working Papers 2000-41, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  2. Bruno Jullien & Bernard Salanié & François Salanié, 1998. "Should More Risk-Averse Agents Exert More Effort," Working Papers 98-12, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  3. Louis Eeckhoudt & Christian Gollier, 2005. "The impact of prudence on optimal prevention," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 26(4), pages 989-994, November.
  4. Hemenway, David, 1990. "Propitious Selection," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(4), pages 1063-69, November.
  5. Tomas Philipson & John Cawley, 1999. "An Empirical Examination of Information Barriers to Trade in Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 827-846, September.
  6. Pierre-André Chiappori & Bernard Salanié, 1997. "Testing for Asymmetric Information in Insurance Markets," Working Papers 97-11, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  7. Amy Finkelstein & Kathleen McGarry, 2003. "Private Information and its Effect on Market Equilibrium: New Evidence from Long-Term Care Insurance," NBER Working Papers 9957, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Hindriks, Jean & De Donder, Philippe, 2003. "The politics of redistributive social insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(12), pages 2639-2660, December.
  9. Yaari, Menahem E, 1987. "The Dual Theory of Choice under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(1), pages 95-115, January.
  10. Hemenway, David, 1992. " Propitious Selection in Insurance," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 247-51, July.
  11. de Meza, David & Webb, David C, 2001. "Advantageous Selection in Insurance Markets," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(2), pages 249-62, Summer.
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