Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Peter F. Orazem
This chapter examines the extent to which gender differences in risk aversion explain why women have a lower entrepreneurship rate, earn less, and work fewer hours than men. Data from the NLSY79 confirms previous findings that women are more risk averse than men. However, while less risk averse men tend to become self-employed, there is no significant effect of risk aversion on women's entrepreneurship decisions. Similarly, greater risk aversion increases earnings for male entrepreneurs, but it has no effect on female entrepreneurial earnings. More risk aversion lowers female wages, but the effects are of modest magnitude. On the contrary, more risk aversion raises male wages. Risk aversion does not explain variation in hours of work for either men or women. These findings and standard decomposition suggest that widely reported differences in risk aversion across genders play only a trivial role in explaining gender gaps in labor market outcomes.
While more risk averse individuals are less likely to become entrepreneurs, theory predicts that more risk averse entrepreneurs pick ventures with higher expected returns and so they should survive in business longer than their less risk averse counterparts. Using successive entry cohorts of young entrepreneurs in the NLSY79, we find contrary to theory that the most successful entrepreneurs are the least risk averse. This surprising finding suggests that commonly used measures of risk aversion are not indicators of taste toward risk. Instead, measured risk aversion signals weak entrepreneurial ability--the least risk averse are apparently those who can best assess and manage risks. Indeed, our interpretation is consistent with recent experimental evidence linking cognitive ability with a greater willingness to accept risk.
The fourth chapter investigates the stability of measured risk attitudes over time, using a 13-year longitudinal sample of individuals in the NLSY79. A variance decomposition shows that 57% of the total variance in measured risk aversion is attributable to variation in measured risk aversion within individuals and only 43% to variation across individuals. After removing variation attributable to socioeconomic factors, the proportion of within variance drops to 54%, strongly rejecting the presumption that measured risk attitudes are stable over time. We find that an individual's measured risk aversion changes systematically responding to personal economic circumstances. Measured risk aversion responds to fluctuations in employment: duration of employment spells and out of labor force increases risk aversion whereas length of unemployment spells decreases risk aversion. Previous labor market experience also increases risk aversion. Finally, risk aversion is quadratic in age and net family income with an inverted U-shape. Our analysis shows that measured risk aversion cannot be treated as a fixed attitude toward risk but rather a changing attitude that reflects changes in personal economic circumstances.
In Lazear (2005)'s model of entrepreneurship, individuals with more diverse academic and occupational training are more likely to become entrepreneurs, while more narrowly trained individuals become employees. This chapter examines whether Lazear's model can also explain which individuals become nonprofit entrepreneurs. Information on successive cohorts of college graduates from a single university from 1982-2006 show that observed diversity of academic and occupational skills increases the probability of nonprofit sector entrepreneurship, consistent with previous findings of for-profit entrepreneurs. In addition, unobservable talents that increase probability of for-profit startups are positively correlated with the unobservable skills that lead to nonprofit start-ups, consistent with a presumed entrepreneurial skill that underlies the Lazear Jack-of-All-Trades model.
In Soo Cho
Cho, In Soo, "Four essays on risk preferences, entrepreneurship, earnings, occupations, and gender" (2012). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 12876.