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Why do white men fear various risks less than women and minorities? Known as the white male effect, this pattern is well documented but poorly understood. This paper proposes a new explanation: cultural status anxiety. The cultural theory of risk posits that individuals selectively credit and dismiss asserted dangers in a manner supportive of their preferred form of social organization. This dynamic, it is hypothesized, drives the white male effect, which reflects the risk skepticism that hierarchical and individualistic white males display when activities integral to their status are challenged as harmful. The paper presents the results of an 1800-person survey that confirmed that cultural worldviews moderate the impact of sex and race on risk perception in patterns consistent with status anxieties. It also discusses the implication of these findings for risk regulation and communication.

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