Spousal Risk Preferences and Household Investment Decisions

Most adults are married, plan for retirement with their spouse, and pool assets to a significant degree. How then are each individual’s risk preferences combined in choosing the portfolio that represents for them the optimal tradeoff between risk and return? There are two pathways through which marriage could amplify the expression of individual risk preferences at the household level. First, if people choose spouses in part based on their appetite for risk, or another characteristic correlated with risk tolerance, then there could be polarization of household level risk preferences towards extremes. Second, spouses may strategically adjust their decisions to compensate for their spouse’s preferences. Is an only mildly risk averse person that is married to someone that is nearly risk neutral motivated to choose a very low risk low return asset allocation to compensate for their spouse’s risky behavior? In this paper we explore the influence of marriage on the expression of individual risk preferences by examining both sorting in the marriage market and strategic decision making. Using data from the Health and Retirement Survey we find a positive correlation between the risk preferences of spouses. We also develop a theoretical model that determines optimal investment allocations conditional on own and spousal risk tolerance. Optimal asset allocations from this model are compared to a naïve model that only includes own risk tolerance. In related research the explanatory power of the naïve and spousal models are evaluated for prediction ability based on actual asset allocation decisions for couples using the HRS data.

Issue Date:
May 03 2011
Publication Type:
Conference Paper/ Presentation
PURL Identifier:
Total Pages:

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-22

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