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Differences in risk aversion between young and older adults

Authors Albert SM, Duffy J

Received 10 October 2011

Accepted for publication 11 January 2012

Published 14 February 2012 Volume 2012:1 Pages 3—9


Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Steven M Albert1, John Duffy2

1Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, 2Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Abstract: Research on decision-making strategies among younger and older adults suggests that older adults may be more risk averse than younger people in the case of potential losses. These results mostly come from experimental studies involving gambling paradigms. Since these paradigms involve substantial demands on memory and learning, differences in risk aversion or other features of decision making attributed to age may in fact reflect age-related declines in cognitive abilities. In the current study, older and younger adults completed a simpler, paired lottery choice task used in the experimental economics literature to elicit risk aversion. A similar approach was used to elicit participants' discount rates. The older adult group was more risk averse than the younger (P < 0.05) and had a higher discount rate (15.6%–21.0% versus 10.3%–15.5%, P < 0.01), indicating lower expected utility from future income. Risk aversion and implied discount rates were weakly correlated. It may be valuable to investigate developmental changes in neural correlates of decision making across the lifespan.

Keywords: aging, decision making, risk, time preference, behavioral economics

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