Biased health perceptions and risky health behaviors—Theory and evidence

Patrick P Arni, Davide Dragone, Lorenz Goette, Nicolas Ziebarth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This paper investigates the role of biased health perceptions as a potential driving force of risky health behaviors. We define absolute and relative health perception biases, illustrate their measurement in surveys and provide evidence on their relevance. Next, we decompose the theoretical effect into its extensive and intensive margin: When the extensive margin dominates, people (wrongly) believe they are healthy enough to “afford” unhealthy behavior. Finally, using three population surveys, we provide robust empirical evidence that respondents who overestimate their health are less likely to exercise and sleep enough, but more likely to eat unhealthily and drink alcohol daily.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102425
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Health Economics
Early online date22 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

Structured keywords

  • ECON CEPS Health
  • ECON Applied Economics


  • Health bias
  • Health perceptions
  • Subjective beliefs
  • Overconfidence
  • Overoptimism
  • Risky behaviour
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Exercising
  • SF12
  • SAH

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