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Loss aversion and risk propensity in public budgeting

Eric Litton (College of Business, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 3 November 2022

Issue publication date: 24 January 2023




This paper applies the theory of loss aversion to public budgeting. It seeks to understand how loss aversion affects recommended budget amounts in two scenarios, one with explicit and one with implied risk levels. It also furthers the understanding of how the personality trait of risk propensity moderates recommended budget amounts in these scenarios.


Utilizing original data gathered from experimental vignettes, 339 US-based participants provided budget recommendations on two separate federal education programs. Participants were current budget professionals and master's-level students. One program utilizes a risky choice frame scenario while the other uses a goal frame scenario.


Participants are more likely to select a risky program option when the options are framed in terms of loss. Additionally, participants recommended larger budgets when they select the riskier program option. When presented with program goals, participants budget more when the goals are framed in terms of loss as opposed to gains. Results on participant risk propensity are mixed.

Practical implications

The discussion section includes multiple recommendations on how managers can approach budgeting with the intent of obtaining the most efficient budget allocation for the programs under their control.


The study is the first to examine framing and risk propensity in budgeting using two different types of framed messaging. Additionally, it is the only study to ask participants to recommend a budget amount after selecting a risky choice option. Therefore, results are more relevant to the entire process of public budgeting. Also, the study includes a mixture of participants with and without finance experience, providing insight into how different public employees allocate funds.



Litton, E. (2023), "Loss aversion and risk propensity in public budgeting", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 95-114.



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