Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 167–193 | Cite as

Risk aversion and physical prowess: Prediction, choice and bias

  • Sheryl Ball
  • Catherine C. Eckel
  • Maria Heracleous


This paper reports on experiments where individuals are asked to make risky decisions for themselves, and to predict the risky decisions of others. Prior research shows that people predict women to be more risk averse than men, a result we confirm. We investigate whether differences in physical prowess underlie actual and perceived gender differences, a hypothesis suggested by both evolutionary and economic theories. Overall we find that perceptions of others’ risk attitudes reflect stereotypes about gender and strength but tend to exaggerate the underlying relationships. Physically stronger and taller people and those perceived as attractive are predicted to be more risk tolerant, while women are perceived to be more risk averse. The impact of gender and physical prowess measures on actual gamble choices is much weaker. Sources of prediction bias are examined, showing that specific characteristics of the target and predictor lead to systematic over-prediction or under-prediction of risk aversion.


Risk aversion Physical risk Experiment Gender Stereotyping 

JEL classification

C91 D8 J16 



This research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SES-0094800). We thank the staff of the Lab for the Study of Human Thought and Action at Virginia Tech for research assistance. We benefitted greatly from conversations with biologist John Phillips. Comments from Iris Bohnet, the participants at the Workshop on Gender and Negotiation, Women and Public Policy Program, Kennedy School of Government, and the seminar participants at the European University Institute significantly improved the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sheryl Ball
    • 1
  • Catherine C. Eckel
    • 2
  • Maria Heracleous
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.School of Economic, Political and Policy SciencesUniversity of Texas at DallasRichardsonUSA
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of CyprusNicosiaCyprus

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