Are you risk taking or risk averse? It may depend on how you measure it!
Graham Loomes, Ganna Pogrebna02 August 2014
Researchers use various measures of individual risk attitudes to help explain a wide variety of economic behaviours, including investment decisions and firms’ entry and exit decisions. This column presents recent evidence showing that such measures are very context-specific and need to be used with caution, since the very same people can sometimes appear to be risk taking and sometimes appear to be risk averse, depending on the specific measure used. These discrepancies may arise because people have imprecise preferences under risk, and their responses are liable to be influenced by the particular methods used to elicit them.
Thomas Dohmen, Armin Falk , David Huffman , Uwe Sunde
There are three common ways of measuring individual risk attitudes: the choice list procedure, the ranking procedure, and the allocation procedure. If individual risk attitudes can be used to help explain and predict other economic decisions (such as the choice of investments, insurance policies, pension schemes, etc.) we should expect that different procedures should at least on average lead to the same results. For example, the same individual should be classified as risk averse, risk neutral, or risk taking irrespective of the procedure used.
The ‘fear factor’: Personal experience and risk aversion in times of crisis
Peter Koudijs, Hans-Joachim Voth12 April 2014
Human behaviour in times of financial crises is difficult to understand, but critical to policymaking. This column discusses new evidence showing that personal experience in financial markets can dramatically change risk tolerance. A cleanly identified historical episode demonstrates that even without losses, negative shocks not only modify risk appetite, but can also create ‘leverage cycles’. These, in turn, have the potential to make markets extremely fragile. Remarkably, those who witnessed this episode but were not directly threatened by it, did not change their own behaviour. Thus, personal experience can be a powerful determinant of investors’ actions and can eventually affect aggregate instability.
To paraphrase Larry Summers, some people are scared – just look around. The crisis of 2007–08 took a toll on a lot of people, investors included. What seemed to be a new age of steady, moderately high growth and stable equity returns suddenly turned into the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s:
Foreign investors and crises: There is no safe haven for all seasons
Maurizio Michael Habib, Livio Stracca28 February 2014
At the peak of the Global Crisis, the US dollar appreciated and US Treasury yields fell, suggesting that foreign investors were purchasing US assets in general. Actually, they were fleeing only into short-term Treasury bills. This column discusses recent research showing that there are indeed no securities which are consistently a safe haven across different crisis episodes – not even US assets. However, a peculiarity of the US securities is that foreign investors do not necessarily ‘run for the exit’, even when a crisis has its epicentre in the US.
The resilience of the international status of the US dollar remains surprising (Frankel 2013). At the peak of the global financial crisis which started in the US, in particular in the last quarter of 2008, US treasury yields fell and the US dollar appreciated. This has created the impression of a stronger demand for US securities in general. The evidence suggests, however, that non-US residents were instead relatively ‘picky’, fleeing into short-term US Treasury bills but reducing purchases of longer-dated Treasury bonds and shedding other US bonds.
Alison Booth, Patrick Nolen, Lina Cardona Sosa20 February 2012
Some blame women’s under-representation in high-level jobs on differences between the sexes in risk aversion and competition. But are these differences in behaviour hardwired or learned? This column describes a study that tackles this thorny question with a controlled experiment in single-sex and mixed classrooms in a British university. Women are found to become far less nervous about uncertainty over time with the men out of the room.
The majority of experimental studies investigating gender differences in risky choices find that women are less willing to take risks than men. This research is summarised in Eckel and Grossman (2008) and Croson and Gneezy (2009). However, these experimental studies investigating gender differences in risky choices typically do so only at a single point in time.
Some blame women’s under-representation in high-level jobs on differences between the sexes in risk aversion and competitiveness. But are these differences in behaviour hardwired or learned? The authors of CEPR DP8690 tackled this thorny question with a controlled experiment in single-sex and co-educational classrooms. Women, they find, become far less timorous about uncertainty with the men out of the room.
Graziella Bertocchi, Costanza Torricelli, Marianna Brunetti13 March 2010
Does marriage make people less averse to risk? This column argues that this is the case for women, but not for men. But married women's different attitude towards risk has fallen over time as the prevalence of marriage in society has faded. For women who work, marriage makes no difference.
A growing literature has explored gender differences in making financial decisions. At the same time, there is a parallel literature on the implications of marital status. This research generally reveals a higher degree of risk aversion among women and single people. Studies such as Sundén and Surette (1998), Jianakoplos and Bernasek (1998), and Barber and Odean (2001) consider marital status and gender jointly and conclude that single women exhibit the most cautious attitude.
Women are underrepresented in high-paying jobs and upper management. Is that due to gender differences in risk aversion and facing competition? This column describes an experiment in which girls were found to be as competitive and risk-taking as boys when surrounded by only girls. This suggests cultural pressure to act as a girl could explain gender differences that are not innate.
It is well known that women are under-represented in high-paying jobs and top-level management positions. Recent work in experimental economics, largely examining college-age men and women attending coeducational universities, has examined to what degree this underrepresentation may be due to innate differences between men and women. Experimental studies have shown that women are less willing than men to take risks or to enter a competitive environment such as a tournament (see for example Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007).
Can we understand the recent moves of the euro-dollar exchange rate?
Anton Brender, Emile Gagna, Florence Pisani21 July 2009
The crisis has broken the close correlation between differences in expected interest rates and the euro-dollar exchange rate. This column attributes that to the sharp increase in risk aversion triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It argues that fluctuations in risk aversion explain the path followed by the euro-dollar exchange rate since the beginning of the financial crisis.
Trying to forecast foreign exchange rates is challenging. Understanding their past behaviour is not much easier. In this respect, the bumpy road followed by the dollar against the euro during the last two years seems to be no exception. Nonetheless, a look at Figure 1 gives some interesting clues. It compares the rate of the euro in dollars and the difference in 3-month rates on thetwo currencies expected at a one year rolling horizon. Until last year, the two variables appear to have been strongly correlated. This should not be a complete surprise.
Greedy bankers are getting most of the blame for the current financial crisis. This column explains bankers did behave badly for mainly three reasons. They committed cognitive errors involving biases towards their own prior beliefs; too many male bankers high on testosterone took too much risk, and a flawed compensation structure rewarded perceived short-term competency rather than long-run results.
Many people share the blame for the current financial crisis; politicians, supervisors, regulators and even imprudent households and businesses. One group, however, has been judged to be especially guilty; the employees in the financial services sector. In response to their perceived greed and bad judgment, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would effectively confiscate the 2008 bonuses of employees of financial firms receiving significant bailout assistance.