Jan 1, 2011
Health risk is increasingly viewed as an important form of background risk that affects household portfolio decisions. However, its role might be mediated by the presence of a protective full-coverage National Health System that could reduce households' probability of incurring current and future out-of-pocket medical expenditures. In this paper, the authors first sketch a theoretical framework in which household portfolio decisions are a function of both individual and systemic characteristics. Then, they test its main implications based on SHARE data, studying the influence of current health status and future health risk on the decision to hold risky assets, across 10 European countries with different health care systems, each offering a different degree of protection against out-of-pocket medical expenditures. They find robust empirical confirmation of their model implications, since perceived health condition matters more than objective health condition and, consistent with the theoretical underpinnings of background risk, health risk affects portfolio choices only in countries with less protective healthcare systems. Furthermore, portfolio decisions consistent with background risk models are observed only with respect to middle-aged and highly-educated investors.