NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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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):The Public Economics Program

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23229

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