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Risk pooling and limited commitment: an experimental analysis


  • Abigail Barr


This paper presents rigorous and direct tests of two assumptions relating to limited commitment and asymmetric information that underpin current models of risk pooling. A specially designed economic experiment involving 678 subjects across 23 Zimbabwean villages is used to solve the problems of observability and quantification that have frustrated previous attempts to conduct such tests. I find that more extrinsic commitment is associated with more risk pooling, but that more information is associated with less risk pooling. The first of these results accords with our expectations and assumptions. The second does not. I offer two explanations as to the origin of the second result and discuss their implications for how we view the assumptions made elsewhere in the literature. I also conduct a test of the relevance or external validity of the experimental results to our understanding of real risk pooling behaviour. In four out of the five villages for which the test could be conducted the networks of risk pooling contracts constructed during the experiment and the networks existing in real life were significantly correlated.

Suggested Citation

  • Abigail Barr, 2003. "Risk pooling and limited commitment: an experimental analysis," CSAE Working Paper Series 2003-05, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:2003-05

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Marcel Fafchamps, 2004. "Social Capital and Development," Economics Series Working Papers 214, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    Field experiment; Asymmetric information; Limited commitment; Villages; Economic development; Risk; Insurance;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development


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