Are the Rich More Selfish than the Poor, or Do They Just Have More Money? A Natural Field Experiment

James Andreoni, Nikos Nikiforakis, Jan Stoop

NBER Working Paper No. 23229
Issued in March 2017
NBER Program(s):Public Economics

The growing concentration of resources among the rich has re-ignited a discussion about whether the rich are more selfish than others. While many recent studies show the rich behaving less pro-socially, endogeneity and selection problems prevent safe inferences about differences in social preferences. We present new evidence from a natural field experiment in which we “misdeliver” envelopes to rich and poor households in a Dutch city, varying their contents to identify motives for returning them. Our raw data indicate the rich behave more pro-socially. Controlling for pressures associated with poverty and the marginal utility of money, however, we find no difference in social preferences. The primary distinction between rich and poor is simply that the rich have more money.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Supplementary materials for this paper:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23229

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Duflo w23213 The Economist as Plumber
Piketty, Yang, and Zucman w23368 Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015
Eckel, Herberich, and Meer w22867 It's Not the Thought that Counts: A Field Experiment on Gift Exchange and Giving at a Public University
Nunn and Sanchez de la Sierra w23207 Why Being Wrong can be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs
Bordalo, Gennaioli, and Shleifer w23256 Memory, Attention, and Choice
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us