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Who Becomes a Stockholder? Expectations, SUbjective Uncertainty, and Asset Allocation

  • Gábor Kézdi

    (University of Michigan)

  • Robert J. Willis

    (University of Michigan)

We develop a model of portfolio selection with subjective uncertainty and learning in order to explain why some people hold stocks while others don’t. We model heterogeneity in information directly, which is an alternative to the existing explanations that emphasized heterogeneity in transaction costs of investment. We plan to calibrate the model to survey data (when available) on people’s perception about the distribution of stock market returns. Our approach also leads to a model of learning with new implications such as zero optimal risky assets, or ex post correlation of uncorrelated labor income and optimal portfolio composition. It also points to two factors in probabilistic thinking that should have a major impact on stock ownership. These are the level and the precision of expectations. We construct proxy measures for the two parameters from the 1992-2000 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We use a large battery of the subjective probability questions administered in each wave of HRS to construct an overall “index of optimism” (the correlated factor between all subjective probabilities) and “index of precision” (the fraction of nonfocal probability answers, following Lillard and Willis, 2001). We also construct measures for how people forecast the weather, their cognitive capacity, wealth, and basic demographics. Our results indicate that stock ownership and the probability of becoming a stockholder are strongly positively correlated with the indices of the level and precision of expectations. Interpretation of the former is quite challenging and further research is needed to understand its full content.

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Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp039.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp039
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  1. Haliassos, Michael & Bertaut, Carol C, 1995. "Why Do So Few Hold Stocks?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(432), pages 1110-29, September.
  2. Lee Lillard & Robert J. Willis, 2001. "Cognition and Wealth: The Importance of Probabilistic Thinking," Working Papers wp007, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  3. Shleifer, Andrei, 2000. "Inefficient Markets: An Introduction to Behavioral Finance," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198292272, March.
  4. James Tobin, 1956. "Liquidity Preference as Behavior Towards Risk," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 14, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  5. Campbell, John Y. & Viceira, Luis M., 2002. "Strategic Asset Allocation: Portfolio Choice for Long-Term Investors," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198296942, March.
  6. Willis, Robert J., 1999. "Theory confronts data: how the HRS is shaped by the economics of aging and how the economics of aging will be shaped by the HRS," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 119-145, June.
  7. Gennotte, Gerard, 1986. " Optimal Portfolio Choice under Incomplete Information," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 41(3), pages 733-46, July.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  11. Merton, Robert C, 1969. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection under Uncertainty: The Continuous-Time Case," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(3), pages 247-57, August.
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