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Politicians Found to Be More Risk-tolerant Than the General Population

Representative survey provides the first empirical evidence of higher risk tolerance among members of the German Bundestag

№ 037/2013 from Mar 06, 2013

According to a recent study, the popularly elected members of the German Bundestag are substantially more risk-tolerant than the broader population of Germany. Researchers in the Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion” at Freie Universität Berlin and at DIW Berlin (German Institute for Economic Research) conducted a survey of Bundestag representatives and analyzed data on the general population from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP). Results show that risk tolerance is even higher among Bundestag representatives than among self-employed people, who are themselves more risk-tolerant than salaried employees or civil servants. This was true for all areas of risk that were surveyed in the study: automobile driving, financial investments, sports and leisure activities, career, and health. The authors interpret this finding as positive. The full results of the study were published in German in the SOEPpapers series of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin).

The authors of the study, Moritz Hess (University of Mannheim), Prof. Dr. Christian von Scheve (Freie Universität Berlin and DIW Berlin), Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schupp (DIW Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin), and Prof. Dr. Gert G. Wagner (DIW Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin) view the above-average risk tolerance found among Bundestag representatives as positive. According to sociologist and lead author of the study Moritz Hess, “Otherwise important societal decisions often wouldn’t be made due to the almost incalculable risks involved. This would lead to stagnation and social standstill.” The authors do not interpret the higher risk-tolerance found among politicians as a threat to democracy. “The results show a successful and sensible division of labor among citizens, voters, and politicians,” says economist Gert G. Wagner. Democratic structures and parliamentary processes, he argues, act as a brake on the individual risk propensity of elected representatives and politicians.

For their study, the research team distributed written questionnaires to all 620 members of the 17th German Bundestag in late 2011. Twenty-eight percent of Bundestag members responded. Comparisons with the statistical characteristics of all current Bundestag representatives showed that the respondents comprise a representative sample of Bundestag members. SOEP data were used to obtain a figure for the risk tolerance of the general population for comparison with the figures for Bundestag members.

The questions posed to Bundestag members were formulated analogously to the questions in the standard SOEP questionnaire. Politicians were asked to rate their own risk tolerance on a scale from zero (= not at all risk-tolerant) to ten (= very risk-tolerant). They rated both their general risk tolerance as well as their specific risk tolerance in the areas of driving, making financial investments, sports and leisure activities, career, health, and trust towards strangers. They also rated their risk tolerance in regard to political decisions. No questions on party affiliation were asked in order to exclude the possibility that results could be used for partisan political purposes.


  • Hess, M., von Scheve, C., Schupp, J., Wagner. G. G. (2013): Members of German Federal Parliament More Risk-Loving Than General Population, in: DIW Economic Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2013, pp. 20-24.
  • Heß, M., von Scheve, C., Schupp, J., Wagner. G. G. (2013): Sind Politiker risikofreudiger als das Volk? Eine empirische Studie zu Mitgliedern des Deutschen Bundestags, SOEPpaper No. 545, DIW Berlin.

Further Information

  • Monika Wimmer, Press Officer for the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), Tel.: +49 30 89789-251, Email: MWimmer@diw.de
  • Dr. Nina Diezemann, Press and Public Relations Officer, Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion” at Freie Universität Berlin, Tel. +49 30 838-57864, Email: nina.diezemann@fu-berlin.de