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Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem

  • Matthew Rabin.

Within the expected-utility framework, the only explanation for risk aversion is that the utility function for wealth is concave: A person has lower marginal utility for additional wealth when she is wealthy than when she is poor. This paper provides a theorem showing that expected-utility theory is an utterly implausible explanation for appreciable risk aversion over modest stakes: Within expected-utility theory, for any concave utility function, even very little risk aversion over modest stakes implies an absurd degree of risk aversion over large stakes. Illustrative calibrations are provided. June 2000

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Paper provided by University of California at Berkeley in its series Economics Working Papers with number E00-279.

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Date of creation: 01 Jun 2000
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Handle: RePEc:ucb:calbwp:e00-279
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  1. Hellwig Martin F., 1995. "The Assessment of Large Compounds of Independent Gambles," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 299-326, December.
  2. Segal, Uzi & Spivak, Avia, 1990. "First order versus second order risk aversion," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 111-125, June.
  3. Epstein, Larry G. & Zin, Stanley E., 1990. "'First-order' risk aversion and the equity premium puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 387-407, December.
  4. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  5. Harless, David W & Camerer, Colin F, 1994. "The Predictive Utility of Generalized Expected Utility Theories," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(6), pages 1251-89, November.
  6. Pratt, John W & Zeckhauser, Richard J, 1987. "Proper Risk Aversion," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(1), pages 143-54, January.
  7. Graham Loomes & Uzi Segal, . "Observing Different Orders of Risk Aversion," Discussion Papers 92/5, Department of Economics, University of York.
  8. David Bowman & Deborah Minehart & Matthew Rabin, 1994. "Loss aversion in a consumption/savings model," International Finance Discussion Papers 492, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  9. Mankiw, N.G. & Zeldes, S.P., 1990. "The Consumption Of Stockholders And Non-Stockholders," Weiss Center Working Papers 23-90, Wharton School - Weiss Center for International Financial Research.
  10. Daniel Kahneman & Jack L. Knetsch & Richard H. Thaler, 1991. "Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 193-206, Winter.
  11. Kandel, S. & Stambaugh, R.F., 1990. "Asset Returns, Investment Horizons, And Intertemporal Preferences," Weiss Center Working Papers 7-90, Wharton School - Weiss Center for International Financial Research.
  12. Read, Daniel & Loewenstein, George & Rabin, Matthew, 1999. "Choice Bracketing," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 171-97, December.
  13. 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.
  14. Benartzi, Shlomo & Thaler, Richard H, 1995. "Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(1), pages 73-92, February.
  15. Daniel Kahneman & Dan Lovallo, 1993. "Timid Choices and Bold Forecasts: A Cognitive Perspective on Risk Taking," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 39(1), pages 17-31, January.
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