Posted by: Tobias | January 24, 2009

Attitudes towards risk have long memory

I missed this a while back, but still find it quite interesting:

MANY economists are unsettled by the idea of a generation of “Depression babies”—people who grew up during the Depression and, scarred by the poor stockmarket returns of their formative years, were unusually risk-averse in their investments throughout their lives. Standard models assume that individuals use all available information about the present and past to make financial decisions, not that choices are disproportionately affected by their personal economic experience.

Yet new research from Ulrike Malmendier of the University of California at Berkeley and Stefan Nagel of Stanford University seems to confirm that people born at different times make very different financial choices, even in similar economic environments.

Ms Malmendier and Mr Nagel examined detailed survey data about American households’ finances between 1964 and 2004. Because they knew when the people in the sample were born, they could calculate the average stockmarket returns and inflation that individuals had experienced over the course of their lives. And because the data tracked financial choices over time, they could also control for factors like age, which matters because the composition of people’s portfolios is likely to change as they grow older.

Their work confirmed the Depression babies idea. Under identical market conditions, and controlling for age, people who had experienced lower stockmarket returns over the course of their lives put a smaller fraction of their money into stocks than people who had lived, on average, in times when stocks had done better.



  1. On many stocks I have experienced no return at all (i.e. Fortis, Super de Boer) which makes me a….. cry baby perhaps?

  2. Wait, you own individual stocks? Have we taught you nothing about efficient markets and all that?

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