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An Empirical Examination of Information Barriers to Trade inInsurance

  • John Cawley
  • Tomas Philipson

This paper tests restrictions implied by the canonical theory of insurance under asymmetric information using ideal data that contains the self-perceived and actual mortality risk of individuals, as well as the price and quantity of their life insurance. We report several findings which are hard to reconcile with the canonical theory. First, we find a striking independence of self-perceived risk and the price of insurance. Second, we find strong evidence of the opposite type of non-linear pricing than predicted by theory: the theory predicts that prices rise with quantity, but we find that they fall. Third, we find that risk is negatively correlated with the quantity of insurance purchased although the theory predicts a positive correlation. Fourth, we find that a substantial fraction of individuals hold multiple insurance contracts, which casts doubt on the prediction that unit prices rise with quantity because multiple small contracts dominate a large one in such a case. Lastly, we test the accuracy of the self-perceived risk of the insured through estimating the induced profits they imply. We conclude by discussing the robustness of these results and the questions they raise for future theoretical models.

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Paper provided by Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State in its series University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State with number 132.

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Date of creation: 1997
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Handle: RePEc:fth:chices:132
Contact details of provider: Postal: UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, CENTER FOR STUDY OF THE ECONOMY AND THE STATE, 1101 E. 58TH STREET CHICAGO ILLINOIS 60637.
Web page: http://research.chicagobooth.edu/economy/

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  1. Foster, Andrew D & Rosenzweig, Mark R, 1994. "A Test for Moral Hazard in the Labor Market: Contractual Arrangements, Effort, and Health," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 76(2), pages 213-27, May.
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  3. Nerlove, Marc, 1983. "Expectations, Plans, and Realizations in Theory and Practice," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(5), pages 1251-79, September.
  4. John Cawley & Tomas Philipson, 1997. "An Empirical Examination of Information Barriers to Trade inInsurance," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 132, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  5. Tomas J. Philipson & Gary S. Becker, 1998. "Old-Age Longevity and Mortality-Contingent Claims," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 551-573, June.
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  16. Townsend, Robert M., 1988. "Information constrained insurance : The revelation principle extended," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2-3), pages 411-450.
  17. Akerlof, George A, 1970. "The Market for 'Lemons': Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 84(3), pages 488-500, August.
  18. Puelz, Robert & Snow, Arthur, 1994. "Evidence on Adverse Selection: Equilibrium Signaling and Cross-Subsidization in the Insurance Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(2), pages 236-57, April.
  19. Michael D. Hurd & Kathleen McGarry, 1993. "Evaluation of Subjective Probability Distributions in the HRS," NBER Working Papers 4560, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Russell Cooper, 1983. "On Allocative Distortions in Problems of Self-Selection," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 647R, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  21. Spence, Michael, 1978. "Product differentiation and performance in insurance markets," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 427-447, December.
  22. Bond, Eric W & Crocker, Keith J, 1991. "Smoking, Skydiving, and Knitting: The Endogenous Categorization of Risks in Insurance Markets with Asymmetric Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(1), pages 177-200, February.
  23. Bond, Eric W, 1982. "A Direct Test of the "Lemons" Model: The Market for Used Pickup Trucks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(4), pages 836-40, September.
  24. Mailath, George J, 1987. "Incentive Compatibility in Signaling Games with a Continuum of Types," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(6), pages 1349-65, November.
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