Natural Disasters, Social Protection, and Risk Perceptions


Abstract Natural disasters give rise to loss and damage and may affect subjective expectations about the prevalence and severity of future disasters. These expectations might then in turn shape individuals’ investment behaviors, potentially affecting their incomes in subsequent years. As part of an emerging literature on endogenous preferences, economists have begun studying the consequences that exposure to natural disasters have on risk attitudes, perceptions, and behavior. We add to this field by studying the impact of being struck by the December 2012 Cyclone Evan on Fijian households’ risk attitudes and subjective expectations about the likelihood and severity of natural disasters over the next 20 years. The randomness of the cyclone’s path allows us to estimate the causal effects of exposure on both risk attitudes and risk perceptions. Our results show that being struck by an extreme event substantially changes individuals’ risk perceptions as well as their beliefs about the frequency and magnitude of future shocks. However, we find sharply distinct results for the two ethnicities in our sample, indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians; the impact of the natural disaster aligns with previous results in the literature on risk attitudes and risk perceptions for Indo-Fijians, whereas they have little to no impact on those same measures for indigenous Fijians.

World Development