Prospect Theory and Insurance Demand

55 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2015 Last revised: 17 Jul 2016

Date Written: July 15, 2016


This paper empirically tests if prospect theory’s loss-aversion and reference point dependence can explain individuals’ real-world insurance take-up behavior. This paper uses American Life Panel data and finds empirical evidence consistent with prospect theory: loss-averse individuals have a low ownership rate of long-term care insurance (LTCI), supplemental disability insurance (SDI), and private health insurance; they express a low willingness to pay for health insurance; they are unwilling to purchase health insurance in a hypothetical insurance choice experiment. These results are consistent with prospect theory, which predicts that loss-aversion may decrease insurance demand if individuals’ reference points are ‘the wealth level when they do not engage in insurance contracts.’ Under such reference points, individuals may regard insurance as a “risky investment” because they may lose premiums if a pre-specified bad event does not occur. Hence, those who are more sensitive to potential losses in premiums are unwilling to buy insurance. This paper also provides suggestive evidence that reference points are important in determining the relationship between loss-aversion and insurance demand by showing that the negative relationship between the two does not hold under a different reference point.

Keywords: Loss Aversion, Reference Point, Long-term Care Insurance, Supplemental Disability Insurance, Health Insurance, Auto Insurance, Narrow Framing

JEL Classification: D03, G22, I13

Suggested Citation

Hwang, In Do, Prospect Theory and Insurance Demand (July 15, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

In Do Hwang (Contact Author)

Bank of Korea ( email )

110, 3-Ga, Namdaemunno, Jung-Gu
Seoul 100-794
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

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