Higher socioeconomic status does not predict decreased prosocial behavior in a field experiment

James Andreoni, Nikos Nikiforakis*, Jan Stoop

*Corresponding author for this work

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Does higher socioeconomic status predict decreased prosocial behavior? Methodological issues such as the reliance of survey studies on self-reported measures of prosociality, the insufficient control of relative incentives in experiments, and the use of non-random samples, have prevented researchers from ruling out that there is a negative association between socioeconomic status (SES) and prosociality. Here, we present results from a field experiment on the willingness of unaware individuals of different SES to undertake an effortful prosocial task—returning a misdelivered letter. Specifically, using the rental or sale value of homes as indicators of SES, we randomly selected households of high and low SES and misdelivered envelopes to them. Despite controlling for numerous covariates and performing a series of ancillary tests, we fail to find any evidence that higher SES predicts decreased prosocial behavior. Instead, we find that misdelivered letters are substantially more likely to be returned from high rather than low SES households.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4266
Pages (from-to)4266
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Olivier Bochet, Zachary Breig, Alain Cohn, Aurélie Dariel, Robert Dur, John Ham, PJ Henry, Hans van Kippersluis, Steven Levitt, John List, Drazen Prelec, Vitalie Spinu, Darjusch Tafreschi, Joost Verlaan, Pepijn Pest, and seminar participants at the University of Athens, the Berlin Social Science Center, the University of Chicago, Kiel University, the University of Nottingham, Tilburg University, and Wageningen University. We are grateful to ERIM (Vidi grant VI.Vidi.195.061), the National Science Foundation (grants: SES-1427355, SES-1658952), the Science of Philanthropy Initiative, the John Templeton Foundation, and Tamkeen under the NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute (Award CG005) for financial support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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