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Keywords:

  • education;
  • risk aversion;
  • university degree choice
  • I21;
  • J24;
  • Z13

ABSTRACT

Does the choice of field of study depend on individual risk aversion? The direction of the relationship between individual risk attitudes and type of university degree chosen is potentially ambiguous. On the one hand, risk averse individuals may prefer degree courses which allow high returns in the labour market; on the other hand, if these degrees expose students to a higher probability of dropping out, those who are more risk averse may be induced to choose less challenging fields. Using data from a sample of students enrolled at a middle-sized Italian public university in 2009, we find that, controlling for a large number of individual characteristics, more risk averse students are more likely to choose any other field (Humanities, Engineering, and Sciences) rather than Social Sciences. We interpret this result bearing in mind that some of these fields, such as Humanities, involve a reduction in the risk of dropping out, while others (such as Engineering and Sciences) involve a lower risk in the labour market. It also emerges that the effect of risk aversion on degree choice is related to student ability. Risk averse students characterized by high abilities tend to prefer Engineering, while the propensity of risk averse students to enrol in Humanities decreases when ability increases, suggesting that the attention paid to labour market risks and drop-out risk varies according to student skills.