Learned generosity? An artefactual field experiment with parents and their children

Avner Ben-Ner, John A. List, Louis Putterman, Anya Samek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


An active area of research within the social sciences concerns the underlying motivation for sharing scarce resources and engaging in other pro-social actions. In this paper we ask: do parents model social preference behavior to children, and do children emulate this behavior? We develop a theoretical framework to examine this question, and conduct an experiment with 147 3–5 year-old children and their parents, using dictator games to measure generosity. We find (1) evidence of parental teaching/modeling in the case of fathers and in that of parents of relatively generous children, and (2) an emulation effect such that children who initially share less than half of their endowment subsequently share more the more they see a parent or other adult share. We find little correlation between baseline sharing of children and the parents, with the possible exception of the oldest children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-44
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the John Templeton Foundation through the Science of Philanthropy Initiative. We thank for helpful comments Aaron Sojourner, Felix Warneken, Andrew Foster, Louis Levy-Garboua and participants at University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management seminar, an economics and psychology seminar at the University of Paris 1, the Science of Philanthropy Initiative Annual Meeting, Annual Meeting of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Associations, and Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics. We thank Amanda Chuan, Tristin Ganter, Akinori Kitsuki, Chien-Yu Lai, Dustin Pashouwer, Kevin Sokal, Andre Gray and Mina Zhang for excellent research assistance. Appendix A

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Children
  • Field experiment
  • Influence
  • Parents
  • Social preferences
  • Transmission


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