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Dead Reckoning: Demographic Determinants of the Accuracy of Mortality Risk Perceptions

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*Address correspondence to Jahn Karl Hakes, John E. Walker Department of Economics, Clemson University, 222 Sirrine Hall, Box 1309, Clemson, SC 29634-1309; jhakes@clemson.edu.

Abstract

General patterns of bias in risk beliefs are well established in the literature, but much less is known about how these biases vary across the population. Using a sample of almost 500 people, the regression analysis in this article yields results consistent with the well-established pattern that small risks are overassessed and large risks are underassessed. The accuracy of these risk beliefs varies across demographic factors, as does the switch point at which people go from underassessment to overassessment, which we found to be 1,500 deaths annually for the full sample. Better educated people have more accurate risk beliefs, and there are important differences in the risk perception by race and gender that also may be of policy interest.

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