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Psychol Sci. 2016 Feb;27(2):231-43. doi: 10.1177/0956797615617811. Epub 2016 Jan 7.

Propensity for Risk Taking Across the Life Span and Around the Globe.

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Department of Psychology, University of Basel
Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.


Past empirical work suggests that aging is associated with decreases in risk taking. But are such effects universal? Life-history theory suggests that the link between age and risk taking is a function of specific reproductive strategies that can be more or less risky depending on the ecology. We assessed variation in the age-risk curve using World Values Survey data from 77 countries (N = 147,118). The results suggest that propensity for risk taking tends to decline across the life span in the vast majority of countries. In addition, there is systematic variation among countries: Countries in which hardship (e.g., high infant mortality) is higher are characterized by higher levels of risk taking and flatter age-risk curves. These findings suggest that hardship may function as a cue to guide life-history strategies. Age-risk relations thus cannot be understood without reference to the demands and affordances of the environment.


adult development; cross-cultural differences; gender differences; open materials; risk taking

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