Monday, March 15, 2010

Race, ethnicity, gender and harm avoidance

A harm avoidance score was calculated for MIDUS Study participants based on the following items: does not or would not enjoy participating in dangerous adventures or activities (e.g., skydiving); being in some natural disaster (e.g., forest fire); being caught in a sudden and dangerous emergency (e.g., a hold up); deliberately risking serious bodily injury; (e.g., riding a runaway horse). Instead prefers safer activities and experiences even if they are tedious or aggravating.  Here are the mean scores by race/ethnicity and sex (N = 3,739):

Mean harm avoidance score

For females, the gap between Norwegian Americans (the highest) and Mexican Americans (the lowest) is eight-tenths of a standard deviation--a large difference. For males, the black-Mexican gap is four-tenths of an sd--a moderate difference.  Mexican Americans are less danger-averse than other groups. It's interesting too that of all males, blacks score the highest on harm avoidance.

The gender gap is largest for Norwegians and smallest for Mex-Ams. Mex-Am women are real outliers here:  they are less danger-averse than most male groups.

Estimates of heritability range from 0.2 to 0.6. 

The overall gender gap is over one-half of a standard deviation. I'll repeat my point from the last post: The person who steps forward to slay the Jabberwocky is probably going to be a dude. Ok--maybe a Mexican chick.


  1. Anonymous9:55 AM

    I see a vague correlation with occupations (I don't think I need to illustrate in detail, but think for a second where most Mexicans work, and where most Blacks work. Norwegians are concentrated in the Midwest -- a strong hunting region).

  2. In general, law-abiding African-Americans don't go out of their way to court danger -- e.g., how white the the Winter Olympics are, or the U.S. Army where blacks tend to avoid combat arms for jobs in supply. Black comedians joke about blacks being afraid of heights.

    In contrast, Mexicans are less likely to get themselves shot, but also seem to have a wider range of activities about which they feel machismo demands a certain carelessness toward risk. A celebrated novel about an American woman living Mexico, "Stones for Ibarra," makes a recurrent point about how non-risk averse Mexicans are. In just about every chapter, somebody gets killed or maimed in an accident. For example, a child is blinded in a fireworks accident at an annual fiesta. The author/narrator discovers that somebody is seriously injured by fireworks at this party every year, but nobody in the town sees that as any reason for a rethink. That wouldn't be macho.

    Judging by the Winter Olympics, whites are most likely to positively seek out activities that are rewarding but somewhat dangerous, such as extreme sports.

  3. Anonymous7:35 PM

    For purposes of life insurance underwriting, hazardous recreational activities include scuba diving, mountaineering, all forms of power racing (car, motorcycle, snowmobile etc.), cave exploring, rodeo riding, and helicopter skiing. Most of these activities seem to be the sort of things that require considerable financial outlays.


  4. Anonymous10:56 PM

    Whoops, I forgot to add skydiving to the list of hazardous activities as defined by life insurance underwriting.

    Note that engaging in a hazardous recreational activity does not necessarily result in higher premiums or rejection. For instance, scuba diving is okay if the policy applicant does not go deeper than certain depths and avoids such things as cave or wreck diving.


  5. Gua Jonah12:22 AM

    I think "machismo" affects the answers given by Mexicans. They won't admit that they are averse to anything dangerous. I grew up surrounded by Mexicans in Los Angeles and lived in Mexico for three years. You can't believe the b.s. you'll be handed by these folks, and how machismo affects it, unless you've done the same. This goes for the men and the women. In point of fact, when given the chance, Mexicans generally stay away from sky diving (just check what happens in the armed forces) etc. But if you asked one of them, they'll tell you they'd jump at the chance, pun intended.


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