Stock market crashes as social phase transitions

Moshe Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Stock market crashes are traumatic events that affect the lives of millions of people around the globe and have tremendous economic implications. Crashes are not only dramatic, but often completely unexpected. The 1987 crash, for example, was not induced by any obvious trigger. Even after the fact, it is hard to find the reason for the crash - Why did the market crash in October rather than in September or December? Why did it crash at all? To this day, we lack satisfactory answers. This paper shows that spontaneous market crashes can be explained by a 'social phase transition' mechanism similar to statistical mechanics phase transitions. Investors' heterogeneity plays the role of 'temperature', and is key in determining the possibility and magnitude of the crash. The analysis suggests that dramatic crashes are a robust and inevitable property of financial markets. It also implies that market crashes should be preceded by an increase in price volatility, as empirically observed. Thus, market crashes, like earthquakes, are a fundamental and unavoidable part of our world. However, we can develop early warning systems that may help minimize the damage.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)137-155
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Economic Dynamics and Control
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank Doyne Farmer and Thomas Lux, the editors, and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions. Financial support from the Zagagi Fund is gratefully acknowledged.


  • Conformity effects
  • Market crashes
  • Phase transitions


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