IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Testing for Asymmetric Information Using 'Unused Observables' in Insurance Markets: Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market

  • Amy Finkelstein
  • James Poterba

This paper tests for asymmetric information in the U.K. annuity market of the 1990s by trying to identify 'unused observables,' attributes of individual insurance buyers that are correlated both with subsequent claims experience and with insurance demand but that insurance companies did not use to set insurance prices. Unlike the widely-used positive correlation test for asymmetric information, which searches for a positive correlation between insurance demand and risk experience, the unused observables test is not confounded by heterogeneity in individual preference parameters that may affect insurance demand. We identify residential location as an unused observable in the U.K. annuity market of this period, and show that this variable was correlated both with annuity demand and with prospective mortality. Thus even though residential location was observed by all market participants, the decision not to condition prices on it created the same types of market inefficiencies that arise when annuity buyers have private information about mortality risk. Our findings raise interesting questions about how insurance companies select the set of buyer attributes that they use in setting policy prices. In the decade following the period that we study, U.K. insurance companies changed their pricing practices and began to condition annuity prices on a buyer's postcode.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12112.

in new window

Date of creation: Mar 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Amy Finkelstein & James Poterba, 2014. "Testing for Asymmetric Information Using “Unused Observables” in Insurance Markets: Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 81(4), pages 709-734, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12112
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Dean Karlan & Jonathan Zinman, 2009. "Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries With a Consumer Credit Field Experiment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(6), pages 1993-2008, November.
  2. Jullien, Bruno & Salanié, Bernard & Salanié, François, 2001. "Screening Risk-Averse Agents Under Moral Hazard," IDEI Working Papers 131, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
  3. David Cutler & Angus Deaton & Adriana Lleras-Muney, 2005. "The Determinants of Mortality," Working Papers 164, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  4. Pierre-André Chiappori & Bernard Salanié, 1997. "Testing for Asymmetric Information in Insurance Markets," Working Papers 97-11, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  5. Pierre-André Chiappori & Bruno Jullien & Bernard Salanié & François Salanié, 2002. "Asymmetric Information in Insurance : General Testable Implications," Working Papers 2002-42, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  6. Jaap H. Abbring & Pierre-Andre Chiappori, 2004. "Moral Hazard and Dynamic Insurance Data," 2004 Meeting Papers 316, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  7. Alma Cohen, 2005. "Asymmetric Information and Learning: Evidence from the Automobile Insurance Market," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 197-207, May.
  8. Han, Aaron & Hausman, Jerry A, 1990. "Flexible Parametric Estimation of Duration and Competing Risk Models," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 5(1), pages 1-28, January-M.
  9. Fang, Hanming & Keane, Michael & Silverman, Dan, 2006. "Sources of Advantageous Selection: Evidence from the Medigap Insurance Market," Working Papers 17, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Hemenway, David, 1990. "Propitious Selection," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(4), pages 1063-69, November.
  13. Jeffrey R. Brown & Amy Finkelstein, 2004. "Supply or Demand: Why is the Market for Long-Term Care Insurance So Small?," NBER Working Papers 10782, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Amy Finkelstein & James Poterba, 2004. "Adverse Selection in Insurance Markets: Policyholder Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(1), pages 183-208, February.
  15. Dean S. Karlan & Jonathan Zinman, 2005. "Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries with a Consumer Credit Field Experiment," Working Papers 911, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  16. Alma Cohen & Liran Einav, 2005. "Estimating Risk Preferences from Deductible Choice," Discussion Papers 04-031, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  17. James P. Smith, 1999. "Healthy Bodies and Thick Wallets: The Dual Relation between Health and Economic Status," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(2), pages 145-166, Spring.
  18. David McCarthy & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2003. "International Adverse Selection in Life Insurance and Annuities," NBER Working Papers 9975, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. John Cawley & Tomas Philipson, 1996. "An Empirical Examination of Information Barriers to Trade in Insurance," NBER Working Papers 5669, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Jean Pinquet & Jaap Abbring & Pierre-André Chiappori, 2003. "Moral Hazard and Dynamic Insurance Data," Post-Print hal-00397121, HAL.
  21. repec:rje:randje:v:37:y:2006:i:4:p:783-798 is not listed on IDEAS
  22. Georges Dionne & Christian Gourieroux & Charles Vanasse, 2001. "Testing for Evidence of Adverse Selection in the Automobile Insurance Market: A Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(2), pages 444-473, April.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12112. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.