2009-07: Depression Babies: Do Macroeconomic Experiences Affect Risk – Taking?


We investigate whether individuals’ experiences of macro-economic outcomes have long-term effects on their risk attitudes, as often suggested for the generation that experienced the Great Depression. Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances from 1964-2004, we find that individuals who have experienced low stock-market returns throughout their lives report lower willingness to take financial risk, are less likely to participate in the stock market, and, conditional on participating, invest a lower fraction of their liquid assets in stocks. Individuals who have experienced low bond returns are less likely to own bonds. All results are estimated controlling for age, year effects, and a broad set of household characteristics. Our estimates indicate that more recent return experiences have stronger effects, but experiences early in life still have significant influence, even several decades later. Our results can explain, for example, the relatively low stock-market participation of young households in the early 1980s, following the disappointing stock-market returns in the 1970s, and the relatively high participation of young investors in the late 1990s, following the boom years in the 1990s. In the aggregate, investors’ lifetime stock-market return experiences predict aggregate stock-price dynamics as captured by the price- earnings ratio.

Ulrike Malmendier
Stefan Nagel
Publication date: 
September 16, 2009
Publication type: 
2009 Working Papers