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Preference Heterogeneity and Insurance Markets: Explaining a Puzzle of Insurance

  • Cutler, David
  • McGarry, Kathleen
  • Finkelstein, Amy

Standard theories of insurance, dating from Rothschild and Stiglitz (1976), stress the role of adverse selection in explaining the decision to purchase insurance. In these models, higher risk people buy full or near-full insurance, while lower risk people buy less complete coverage, if they buy at all. While this prediction appears to hold in some real world insurance markets, in many others, it is the lower risk individuals who have more insurance coverage. If the standard model is extended to allow individuals to vary in their risk tolerance as well as their risk type, this could explain why the relationship between insurance coverage and risk occurrence can be of any sign, even if the standard asymmetric information effects also exist. We present empirical evidence in five difference insurance markets in the United States that is consistent with this potential role for risk tolerance. Specifically, we show that individuals who engage in risky behavior or who do not engage in risk reducing behavior are systematically less likely to hold life insurance, acute private health insurance, annuities, long-term care insurance, and Medigap. Moreover, we show that the sign of this preference effect differs across markets, tending to induce lower risk individuals to purchase insurance in some of these markets, but higher risk individuals to purchase insurance in others. These findings suggest that preference heterogeneity may be important in explaining the differential patterns of insurance coverage in various insurance markets.

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Paper provided by Harvard University Department of Economics in its series Scholarly Articles with number 2640581.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Publication status: Published in American Economic Review
Handle: RePEc:hrv:faseco:2640581
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  1. Barsky, Robert B, et al, 1997. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 537-79, May.
  2. Cardon, James H & Hendel, Igal, 2001. "Asymmetric Information in Health Insurance: Evidence from the National Medical Expenditure Survey," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(3), pages 408-27, Autumn.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Hanming Fang & Michael P. Keane & Dan Silverman, 2006. "Sources of Advantageous Selection: Evidence from the Medigap Insurance Market," NBER Working Papers 12289, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Amy Finkelstein & James Poterba, 2006. "Testing for Asymmetric Information Using 'Unused Observables' in Insurance Markets: Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market," NBER Working Papers 12112, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Pierre‐André Chiappori & Bruno Jullien & Bernard Salanié & François Salanié, 2006. "Asymmetric information in insurance: general testable implications," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 37(4), pages 783-798, December.
  8. Olivia S. Mitchell, 1999. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1299-1318, December.
  9. Ettner, Susan L., 1997. "Adverse selection and the purchase of Medigap insurance by the elderly," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(5), pages 543-562, October.
  10. W. Kip Viscusi, 2004. "The Value of Life: Estimates with Risks by Occupation and Industry," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 42(1), pages 29-48, January.
  11. Bruno Jullien & Bernard Salanié & François Salanié, 1999. "Should More Risk-Averse Agents Exert More Effort?," The Geneva Risk and Insurance Review, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 24(1), pages 19-28, June.
  12. B. Douglas Bernheim & Lorenzo Forni & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2001. "The mismatch between life insurance holdings and financial vulnerabilities: evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey," Working Paper 0109, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  13. B. Douglas Bernheim & Katherine Grace Carman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2003. "Are Life Insurance Holdings Related to Financial Vulnerabilities?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 41(4), pages 531-554, October.
  14. Alma Cohen & Liran Einav, 2005. "Estimating Risk Preferences from Deductible Choice," NBER Working Papers 11461, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Hurd, Michael D. & McGarry, Kathleen, 1997. "Medical insurance and the use of health care services by the elderly," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 129-154, April.
  16. Robert B. Barsky & Miles S. Kimball & F. Thomas Juster & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1995. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Working Papers 5213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. David M. Cutler & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1999. "The Anatomy of Health Insurance," NBER Working Papers 7176, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1976. "Equilibrium in Competitive Insurance Markets: An Essay on the Economics of Imperfect Information," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(4), pages 630-49, November.
  19. Amy Finkelstein & James Poterba, 2000. "Adverse Selection in Insurance Markets: Policyholder Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market," NBER Working Papers 8045, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Pierre-André Chiappori & Bernard Salanié, 1997. "Testing for Asymmetric Information in Insurance Markets," Working Papers 97-11, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  21. Dionne, G. & Eeckhoudt, L., 1984. "Self-Insurance, Self-Protection and Increased Risk Aversion," Cahiers de recherche 8424, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
  22. De Meza, D. & Webb, D.C., 2000. "Advantageous Selection in Insurance Market," Discussion Papers 0007, Exeter University, Department of Economics.
  23. David McCarthy & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2003. "International Adverse Selection in Life Insurance and Annuities," NBER Working Papers 9975, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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