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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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    Cited by:

    1. Botond Kőszegi & Matthew Rabin, 2006. "A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1133-1165.
    2. Sabatini Fabio, 2011. "Can a click buy a little happiness? The impact of business-to-consumer e-commerce on subjective well-being," wp.comunite 0076, Department of Communication, University of Teramo.
    3. Botti, Fabrizio & Conte, Anna & Di Cagno, Daniela & D'Ippoliti, Carlo, 2009. "Lab and framed lab versus natural experiments: Evidence from a risky choice experiment," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(4), pages 282-295, December.
    4. al-Nowaihi, Ali & Stracca, Livio, 2002. "Non-standard central bank loss functions, skewed risks, and certainty equivalence," Working Paper Series 0129, European Central Bank.
    5. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2010. "Risk aversion and expected utility of consumption over time," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 208-219, January.
    6. Paul Heidhues & Botond Köszegi, 2004. "The Impact of Consumer Loss Aversion on Pricing," CIG Working Papers SP II 2004-17, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG).
    7. Palacios-Huerta, Ignacio & Serrano, Roberto, 2006. "Rejecting small gambles under expected utility," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 91(2), pages 250-259, May.
    8. James Roumasset, 2010. "Wither the Economics of Agricultural Development?," Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), vol. 7(1), pages 1-22, June.
    9. Pope, Rulon D. & LaFrance, Jeffrey T. & Just, Richard E., 2011. "Agricultural arbitrage and risk preferences," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 162(1), pages 35-43, May.
    10. Schleich, Joachim & Gassmann, Xavier & Faure, Corinne & Meissner, Thomas, 2016. "Making the implicit explicit: A look inside the implicit discount rate," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 321-331.
    11. Botti Fabrizio & Conte Anna & Di Cagno Daniela Teresa & D'Ippoliti Carlo, 2008. "Risk Attitude in Real Decision Problems," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-32, March.
    12. Timothy Irwin & Oscar Parkyn, 2009. "Improving the Management of the Crown’s Exposure to Risk," Treasury Working Paper Series 09/06, New Zealand Treasury.
    13. Langer, Thomas & Weber, Martin, 2005. "Myopic prospect theory vs. myopic loss aversion: how general is the phenomenon?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 25-38, January.
    14. David H. Krantz & Howard C. Kunreuther, 2007. "Goals and plans in decision making," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 2, pages 137-168, June.
    15. David H. Krantz & Howard Kunreuther, 2006. "Goals and Plans in Protective Decision Making," NBER Working Papers 12446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Booij, Adam S. & van de Kuilen, Gijs, 2009. "A parameter-free analysis of the utility of money for the general population under prospect theory," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 651-666, August.
    17. Heidhues, Paul & Koszegi, Botond, 2014. "Regular prices and sales," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 9(1), January.
    18. Richard Layard, 2006. "Happiness and Public Policy: a Challenge to the Profession," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(510), pages 24-33, March.
    19. Yang, Sansi & Shumway, C. Richard, 2015. "Asset Fixity under State-Contingent Production Uncertainty," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 205256, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    20. Matthew Rabin & Richard H. Thaler, 2001. "Anomalies: Risk Aversion," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 219-232, Winter.
    21. Serra, Teresa & Goodwin, Barry K. & Featherstone, Allen M., 2011. "Risk behavior in the presence of government programs," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 162(1), pages 18-24, May.

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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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