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Time Varying Risk Aversion

  • Luigi Guiso

    (EIEF and CEPR)

  • Paola Sapienza

    (Northwestern University, NBER and CEPR)

  • Luigi Zingales

    (University of Chicago, NBER and CEPR)

We use a repeated survey of a large sample of clients of an Italian bank to measure possible changes in investors’ risk aversion following the 2008 financial crisis. We find that both a qualitative and a quantitative measure of risk aversion increase substantially after the crisis. These changes are correlated with changes in portfolio choices, but do not seem to be correlated with “standard” factors that affect risk aversion, such as wealth, consumption habit, and background risk. This opens the possibility that psychological factors might be driving it. To test whether a scary experience (as the financial crisis) can trigger large increases in risk aversion, we conduct a lab experiment. We find that indeed students who watched a scary video have a certainty equivalent that is 27% lower than the ones who did not. Following a sharp drop in stock prices,a fear model predicts that individuals should sell stocks, while the habit model has the opposite implications; people should actively buy stocks to bring the risky assets to the new optimal level. We show that after the drop in stock prices in 2008 individuals rebalanced their portfolio in a way consistent to a fear model.

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Paper provided by Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF) in its series EIEF Working Papers Series with number 1322.

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Length: 52 pages
Date of creation: 2013
Date of revision: Sep 2013
Handle: RePEc:eie:wpaper:1322
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  1. Nicholas Barberis & Ming Huang & Tano Santos, . "Prospect Theory and Asset Prices," CRSP working papers 494, Center for Research in Security Prices, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago.
  2. Luigi Guiso & Monica Paiella, 2007. "Risk Aversion, Wealth, and Background Risk," Economics Working Papers ECO2007/47, European University Institute.
  3. Knutson, Brian & Wimmer, G. Elliott & Kuhnen, Camelia & Winkielman, Piotr, 2008. "Nucleus accumbens activation mediates the influence of reward cues on financial risk-taking," MPRA Paper 8013, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. Mark Kamstra & Lisa Kramer & Maurice Levi, 2002. "Winter blues: a SAD stock market cycle," FRB Atlanta Working Paper No. 2002-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  5. Ulrike Malmendier & Stefan Nagel, 2009. "Depression Babies: Do Macroeconomic Experiences Affect Risk-Taking?," NBER Working Papers 14813, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
  7. Luigi Guiso & Tullio Jappelli, 2008. "Financial Literacy and Portfolio Diversification," EIEF Working Papers Series 0812, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Oct 2008.
  8. George Loewenstein, 2000. "Emotions in Economic Theory and Economic Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 426-432, May.
  9. Rachel Croson & Uri Gneezy, 2009. "Gender Differences in Preferences," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(2), pages 448-74, June.
  10. Heaton, John & Lucas, Deborah, 2000. "Portfolio Choice in the Presence of Background Risk," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(460), pages 1-26, January.
  11. Yosef Bonaparte & Russell Cooper, 2010. "Costly Portfolio Adjustment," Economics Working Papers ECO2010/19, European University Institute.
  12. Constantinides, George M, 1990. "Habit Formation: A Resolution of the Equity Premium Puzzle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(3), pages 519-43, June.
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