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The Welfare Cost of Asymmetric Information: Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market

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  • Liran Einav
  • Amy Finkelstein
  • Paul Schrimpf

Abstract

Much of the extensive empirical literature on insurance markets has focused on whether adverse selection can be detected. Once detected, however, there has been little attempt to quantify its importance. We start by showing theoretically that the efficiency cost of adverse selection cannot be inferred from reduced form evidence of how "adversely selected" an insurance market appears to be. Instead, an explicit model of insurance contract choice is required. We develop and estimate such a model in the context of the U.K. annuity market. The model allows for private information about risk type (mortality) as well as heterogeneity in preferences over different contract options. We focus on the choice of length of guarantee among individuals who are required to buy annuities. The results suggest that asymmetric information along the guarantee margin reduces welfare relative to a first-best, symmetric information benchmark by about £127 million per year, or about 2 percent of annual premiums. We also find that government mandates, the canonical solution to adverse selection problems, do not necessarily improve on the asymmetric information equilibrium. Depending on the contract mandated, mandates could reduce welfare by as much as £107 million annually, or increase it by as much as £127 million. Since determining which mandates would be welfare improving is empirically difficult, our findings suggest that achieving welfare gains through mandatory social insurance may be harder in practice than simple theory may suggest.

Suggested Citation

  • Liran Einav & Amy Finkelstein & Paul Schrimpf, 2007. "The Welfare Cost of Asymmetric Information: Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market," NBER Working Papers 13228, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13228
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    Cited by:

    1. Alma Cohen & Peter Siegelman, 2010. "Testing for Adverse Selection in Insurance Markets," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 77(1), pages 39-84, March.
    2. Liran Einav & Amy Finkelstein & Mark R. Cullen, 2010. "Estimating Welfare in Insurance Markets Using Variation in Prices," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 125(3), pages 877-921.
    3. Amy Finkelstein, 2011. "Comment on "The Demand for Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Coverage: Evidence from Four Waves of the Retirement Perspectives Survey"," NBER Chapters, in: Explorations in the Economics of Aging, pages 182-185, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Jeffrey Clemens, 2015. "Regulatory Redistribution in the Market for Health Insurance," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 109-134, April.
    5. Huang, Rachel J. & Tsai, Jeffrey T. & Tzeng, Larry Y., 2008. "Government-provided annuities under insolvency risk," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 377-385, December.
    6. Duarte, Fabian, 2012. "Price elasticity of expenditure across health care services," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 824-841.
    7. Amy Finkelstein, 2010. "Comment on "Mind the Gap! Consumer Perceptions and Choices of Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plans"," NBER Chapters, in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 481-484, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C13 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Estimation: General
    • C51 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Model Construction and Estimation
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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