July 10th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasuries hit an all-time low yesterday. Before you spin a story using recent events: remember long rates have been trending down for thirty odd years. And that’s true in most advanced economies. So think bigger than jobs day or Brexit or liftoff. And while I’ve got you thinking in decades not data releases … also consider that the share high-growth young firms, aggregate productivity growth, and general satisfaction have all been trending down since early 2000s. And again not unique to the United States.
No single factor has a chance at explaining all these trends … Still I think a common thread of population aging and reduced risk taking is worth exploring. The idea that aging can change individual behavior is nothing new but sometimes the gradual and the familiar are easy to discount. Also, and a bit more provocatively, I want to argue that effects of population aging go well beyond the behavior and views of older individuals.
..As we age, we are less willing to take risks.
In numerous studies, including my job market paper, older individuals are less willing to take risks than younger ones. In fact, I was able to see how much risk tolerance changed with age (and other factors) in decade-long panel study of older adults. Aging by a decade led to a 17 percent decline in risk tolerance. For comparison, women were 14 percent less risk tolerant than men, on average, even after taking into account several other observables including age. My main takeaway from this work was that persistent differences across individuals create more variation in the willingness to take risks than the changes within person over time. However, of the factors that seem to cause risk preferences to change, aging was by far the most robust in my data and shows up in other studies, including those with younger adults.