Inequality Risk Premia

38 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2009 Last revised: 26 Sep 2011

See all articles by Timothy C. Johnson

Timothy C. Johnson

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Date Written: September 19, 2011


Assets that hedge against systematic shocks to the consumption distribution may carry a risk premium which aggregates differing preferences for redistribution. This paper explores that risk premium theoretically and empirically. Using a long time-series of U.S. income inequality, I find that differing exposure to inequality risk is a significant factor in explaining differences in asset returns. The return premium is negative: the market pays higher prices for assets that hedge against increased inequality. This is consistent with the prediction of an incomplete-markets model incorporating a utility specification with both comparative and noncomparative consumption "goods'' when the weight on the former is large. Moreover, the model implies that the time-series properties of the premium can be used to identify the substitutability of these two sources of utility. There is evidence that the magnitude of the (negative) inequality risk premium is countercyclical. This suggests that agents care more about cross-sectional comparisons when they are worse off, and hence that consumption externalities may be alleviated by growth.

Keywords: inequality, risk sharing, consumption externalities, asset pricing

JEL Classification: D31, D52, D62, G12

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Timothy C., Inequality Risk Premia (September 19, 2011). AFA 2010 Atlanta Meetings Paper. Available at SSRN: or

Timothy C. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

601 E John St
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics