The Risk Preferences of U.S. Executives

Steffen Brenner

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    In this paper, I elicit risk attitudes of U.S. executives by calibrating a subjective option valuation model for option exercising data (1996 to 2008), yielding approximately 65,000 values of relative risk aversion (RRA) for almost 7,000 executives. The observed behavior is generally consistent with moderate risk aversion and a median (mean) RRA close to one (three). Values are validated for chief executive officers (CEOs) by testing theory-based predictions on the influence of individual characteristics on risk preferences such as gender, marital status, religiosity, and intelligence. Senior managers such as CEOs, presidents, and chairpersons of the boards of directors are significantly less risk averse than non-senior executives. RRA heterogeneity is strongly correlated with sector membership and firm-level variables such as size, performance, and capital structure. Alternative factors influencing option exercises are tested for their influence on RRA values.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalManagement Science
    Issue number6
    Pages (from-to)1344-1361
    Number of pages18
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • CRRA preferences
    • Top executives
    • Calibration method

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