The Benefits of Knowledge: Mortality Expectations and Sexual Behavior

Alberto Ciancio , University of Pennsylvania
Adeline Delavande, RAND and Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Hans-Peter Kohler, University of Pennsylvania
Iliana V. Kohler, University of Pennsylvania

Many individuals in low-income settings are overly pessimistic about their own survival, suggesting that better knowledge about survival risk might encourage human capital investment. This paper provides evidence from a randomized controlled trial that provided mature adults with information about population-level mortality in Malawi. Treated individuals are less likely to engage in risky sexual practices one year after the intervention compared to the control group: we find a 19% reduction in the propensity to have multiple partners without condom and a 8% increase in abstinence. These results in isolation would have led us to conclude that more accurate expectations about own survival risk provides incentives for safe sex practice. However, the availability of subjective expectations data reveal a rather different and more complex picture. We find no treatment effect on own survival expectations, but a positive treatment effect on the survival of others, in particular HIV+ individuals. This discrepancy is consistent with a situation in which individuals have private information about their own survival, making expectations about own survival less responsive to new information. The change in risky sex we uncover appears to be driven by the perception that HIV+ people live longer, making the pool of potential partners riskier, as there is a positive treatment effect on the subjective probability of contracting HIV associated with multiple sex partners.

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 Presented in Session P2. Poster Session Ageing, Health and Mortality