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J Econ Psychol. 2008 Dec;29(6):810-831.

Alcohol demand and risk preference.

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1
Bentley College & National Bureau of Economic Research, Department of Economics, 175 Forest Street, AAC 195 Waltham, MA 02452-4705, United States.

Abstract

Both economists and psychologists have studied the concept of risk preference. Economists categorize individuals as more or less risk-tolerant based on the marginal utility of income. Psychologists categorize individuals' propensity towards risk based on harm avoidance, novelty seeking and reward dependence traits. The two concepts of risk are related, although the instruments used for empirical measurement are quite different. Psychologists have found risk preference to be an important determinant of alcohol consumption; however economists have not included risk preference in studies of alcohol demand. This is the first study to examine the effect of risk preference on alcohol consumption in the context of a demand function. The specifications employ multiple waves from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which permit the estimation of age-specific models based on nationally representative samples. Both of these data sets include a unique and consistent survey instrument designed to directly measure risk preference in accordance with the economist's definition. This study estimates the direct impact of risk preference on alcohol demand and also explores how risk preference affects the price elasticity of demand. The empirical results indicate that risk preference has a significant negative effect on alcohol consumption, with the prevalence and consumption among risk-tolerant individuals being 6-8% higher. Furthermore, the tax elasticity is similar across both risk-averse and risk-tolerant individuals. This suggests that tax policies are as equally effective in deterring alcohol consumption among those who have a higher versus a lower propensity for alcohol use.

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