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Are CEOs Expected Utility Maximizers?

  • John List
  • Charles Mason

Are individuals expected utility maximizers? This question represents much more than academic curiosity. In a normative sense, at stake are the fundamental underpinnings of the bulk of the last half-century's models of choice under uncertainty. From a positive perspective, the ubiquitous use of benefit-cost analysis across government agencies renders the expected utility maximization paradigm literally the only game in town. In this study, we advance the literature by exploring CEO's preferences over small probability, high loss lotteries. Using undergraduate students as our experimental control group, we find that both our CEO and student subject pools exhibit frequent and large departures from expected utility theory. In addition, as the extreme payoffs become more likely CEOs exhibit greater aversion to risk. Our results suggest that use of the expected utility paradigm in decision making substantially underestimates society's willingness to pay to reduce risk in small probability, high loss events.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15453.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15453.

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Date of creation: Oct 2009
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Publication status: published as List, John A. & Mason, Charles F., 2011. "Are CEOs expected utility maximizers?," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 162(1), pages 114-123, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15453
Note: EEE PE
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  1. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "The Hidden Costs and Returns of Incentives-Trust and Trustworthiness Among CEOs," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(5), pages 743-771, 09.
  2. Hey, John D & Orme, Chris, 1994. "Investigating Generalizations of Expected Utility Theory Using Experimental Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(6), pages 1291-1326, November.
  3. Daniel McFadden & Kenneth Train, 2000. "Mixed MNL models for discrete response," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(5), pages 447-470.
  4. Machina, Mark J, 1987. "Choice under Uncertainty: Problems Solved and Unsolved," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 121-54, Summer.
  5. Haigh, Michael S. & List, John A., 2002. "Do Professional Traders Exhibit Myopic Loss Aversion? An Experimental Analysis," Working Papers 28554, University of Maryland, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
  6. repec:feb:framed:00135 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Kenneth E. Train, 1998. "Recreation Demand Models with Taste Differences over People," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 74(2), pages 230-239.
  8. Chew, S H & Epstein, Larry G & Segal, U, 1991. "Mixture Symmetry and Quadratic Utility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(1), pages 139-63, January.
  9. Evans, Dorla A, 1997. "The Role of Markets in Reducing Expected Utility Violations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(3), pages 622-36, June.
  10. Graciela Chichilnisky & Geoffrey Heal, 1993. "Global Environmental Risks," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 65-86, Fall.
  11. List, John A. & Mason, Charles F., 2011. "Are CEOs expected utility maximizers?," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 162(1), pages 114-123, May.
  12. Yaari, Menahem E, 1987. "The Dual Theory of Choice under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(1), pages 95-115, January.
  13. David Revelt & Kenneth Train, 1998. "Mixed Logit With Repeated Choices: Households' Choices Of Appliance Efficiency Level," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(4), pages 647-657, November.
  14. Chris Starmer, 2000. "Developments in Non-expected Utility Theory: The Hunt for a Descriptive Theory of Choice under Risk," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(2), pages 332-382, June.
  15. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  16. Charles Mason & Jason Shogren & Chad Settle & John List, 2005. "Investigating Risky Choices Over Losses Using Experimental Data," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 31(2), pages 187-215, September.
  17. John List, 2006. "Field experiments: A bridge between lab and naturally occurring data," Artefactual Field Experiments 00083, The Field Experiments Website.
  18. Harless, David W., 1992. "Predictions about indifference curves inside the unit triangle : A test of variants of expected utility theory," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 391-414, August.
  19. Hey, John D., 1995. "Experimental investigations of errors in decision making under risk," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(3-4), pages 633-640, April.
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