What is the nature of the experience of risk? Risk can impose distinctive burdens on individuals: making us anxious, impairing our relationships and limiting our ability to plan our lives. On the other hand, risky situations are sometimes exciting, liberating and even empowering. The article explores the idea that risk can result in benefits for the individuals who bear it. Specifically, we evaluate John Tomasi’s claim that the experience of economic risk is a precondition of individual self-respect. Philosophical claims about the social bases of self-respect such as Tomasi’s have not been subjected to sufficient empirical scrutiny. The article exemplifies an alternative approach, by integrating philosophical argument with the analysis of large-scale survey data. Whilst Tomasi’s claim has force in some contexts, evidence from the economic domain shows that risk tends to undermine rather than to support self-respect.