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A Gentle Introduction to Risk Aversion and Utility Theory

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While the topics of risk aversion and utility theory have been discussed extensively in the academic literature on risk and insurance, this literature does not include a pedagogical discussion that is widely accessible for classroom use. This article provides a practical introduction to risk aversion that is designed for readers with little prerequisite course work in economics or statistics. We describe a simple model of insurance demand that can be applied to the property, liability, life, and health insurance markets. We also demonstrate how risk aversion affects a variety of real-life insurance decisions made under conditions of uncertainty, including how much the market will bear to pay for insurance administrative expenses and how demand varies for different types of auto insurance coverage. Exercises and practice problems are provided so that readers can test their mastery of the concepts presented in the article. An instructional note on using this article to teach risk aversion in the classroom is also provided.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6296.2009.01173.x

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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