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Diminishing Marginal Utility of Wealth Cannot Explain Risk Aversion

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  • Matthew Rabin.

Abstract

Arrow (1971) shows that an expected-utility maximizer with a differentiable utility function will always want to take a sufficiently small stake in any positive-expected-value bet. That is, expected- utility maximizers are arbitrarily close to risk neutral when stakes are arbitrarily small. While most economists understand this formal limit result, fewer appreciate that the approximate risk-neutrality prediction holds not just for very small stakes, but for quite sizable and economically important stakes. Diminishing marginal utility of wealth is not a plausible explanation of people's aversion to risk on the scale of $10, $100, $1000 or even more. After illustrating and providing intuition for these claims, I shall argue that economists often reach misleading conclusions by invoking expected-utility theory to explain substantial risk aversion in contexts where the theory actually predicts virtual risk neutrality.
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  • Matthew Rabin., 2000. "Diminishing Marginal Utility of Wealth Cannot Explain Risk Aversion," Economics Working Papers E00-287, University of California at Berkeley.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucb:calbwp:e00-287
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    JEL classification:

    • C7 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty

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