Are Risk Takers Happier?

Taking Risks Tied to Age, Height, and Happiness

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 19, 2005

Sept. 19, 2005 -- People who enjoy taking risks may be more content and satisfied with their lives.

A new study shows that a willingness to take risks is not only linked to personal satisfaction, but it also may be related to a person's age, sex, and even their height.

German researchers surveyed more than 20,000 people about their risky behavior and found:

  • Tall people are more prepared to take risks than short people.
  • Women take fewer risks than men.
  • Willingness to take risk decreases dramatically with age.

Which Comes First?

But researchers say it's the link between a willingness to take risks and personal satisfaction that's the most difficult to interpret.

"It's a classic chicken and the egg problem," researcher Armin Falk, of the Institute for the Study of Labor and the University of Bonn, says in a news release. "Are people who are satisfied more optimistic because they are satisfied and thus more ready to take risks? Or is someone who is not afraid of risks a person who takes their life into their own hands and shapes it the way they want to?"

Risky Business

In the study, researchers interviewed more than 20,000 people about their willingness to take risks, as well as conducted a risk-taking experiment to test the survey results.

The survey participants were asked to rate their willingness to take risks on a scale from zero (not willing to take any risks) to 10 (very willing to take risks).

They were then asked to imagine that they had just won 100,000 euros in a lottery. They could invest part of those winnings in a bank with a 50% chance they would double the amount invested within two years. But the risk of losing half of the money was also 50%.

The results showed that the participant's risk-taking behavior in the lottery scenario mirrored their own self-assessment of their willingness to take risks. Researchers found peoples' willingness to take risk was most significantly associated with four factors: age, sex, height, and parental education.

Closer Look at Risk Taking

"Under these conditions, women invest about 6,000 euros less than men," says Falk. "Irrespective of gender, younger people invest a larger sum than older ones -- the annual difference is approximately 350 euros."

Height was also related to a person's willingness to take risks with their winnings. For every centimeter in height, the amount invested rose by 200 euros.

Children of educated parents were also more likely to be willing to take risks.

Finally, the survey showed that people who enjoyed taking risks were more content with their lives.

Researchers say the results show that a willingness to take risks may be influenced by a variety of social, genetic, biological, and developmental factors and may change during the course of a person's life.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Dohmen, T. Institute for the Study of Labor Discussion Paper Series, September 2005. News release, University of Bonn.
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