Happiness as a driver of risk-avoiding behaviour: theory and an empirical study of seatbelt wearing and automobile accidents

Robert J.B. Goudie, Sach Mukherjee, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Andrew J. Oswald, Stephen Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Governments try to discourage risky health behaviours, yet such behaviours are bewilderingly persistent.We suggest a new conceptual approach to this puzzle. We show that expected utility theory predicts that unhappy people will be attracted to risk-taking. Using US seatbelt data, we document evidence strongly consistent with that prediction. We exploit various methodological approaches, including Bayesian model selection and instrumental variable estimation. Using road accident data, we find strongly corroborative longitudinal evidence. Government policy may thus have to change. It may need to improve the underlying happiness of individuals instead of, or in addition to, its traditional concern with society’s risk-taking symptoms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)674-697
Number of pages24
Issue number324
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

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