The Diversification Puzzle

Posted: 10 Aug 2004

See all articles by Meir Statman

Meir Statman

Santa Clara University - Department of Finance


The levels of diversification in U.S. investors' equity portfolios present a puzzle. Today's optimal level of diversification, measured by the rules of mean-variance portfolio theory, exceeds 300 stocks, but the average investor holds only 3 or 4 stocks. The diversification puzzle can be solved, however, in the context of behavioral portfolio theory. In behavioral portfolio theory, investors construct their portfolios as layered pyramids in which the bottom layers are designed for downside protection and the top layers are designed for upside potential. Risk aversion gives way to risk seeking at the uppermost layer as the desire to avoid poverty gives way to the desire for riches. But what motivates this behavior is the aspirations of investors, not their attitudes toward risk. Some investors fill the uppermost layer with the few stocks of an undiversified portfolio; others fill it with lottery tickets. Neither lottery buying nor undiversified portfolios are consistent with mean-variance portfolio theory, but both are consistent with behavioral portfolio theory.

Keywords: Investment Theory, Behavioral Finance, Portfolio Theory, Portfolio Management, Asset Allocation

Suggested Citation

Statman, Meir, The Diversification Puzzle. Financial Analysts Journal, Vol. 60, No. 4, pp. 44-53, July/August 2004. Available at SSRN:

Meir Statman (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University - Department of Finance ( email )

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