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Altruistic Behavior and Habit Formation

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  • Harvey S. Rosen

    (Princeton University)

  • Stephen T. Sims

    (STS Associates)

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    Abstract

    This paper examines whether altruistic behavior is habit forming. We take advantage of a data set that includes a rich set of information concerning individuals’ donations of cash and time as adults as well as information about whether they were involved with charitable activities when they were young. The basic premise is that if altruistic behavior when young is a good predictor of such behavior in adulthood, then this is consistent with the notion that altruistic behavior is habit forming. Using U.S. data, we examine both donations of money and time, and find that engaging in charitable behavior when young is a strong predictor of adult altruistic behavior, ceteris paribus. A major issue in the interpretation of this result is that the correlation between youthful and adult altruistic behavior may be due to some third variable that affects both. While it is impossible to rule out such a possibility, we are able to control for family influences that likely could affect lifetime attitudes toward altruism. We find that, even taking this factor into account, altruistic behavior as a youth plays a significant role in explaining adult behavior. This result applies to donations of money and time to a variety of types of non-profit organizations.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 1244.

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    Date of creation: Jul 2010
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    Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:210rosen

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    Related research

    Keywords: altruistic behavior; donations; nonprofit fundraising;

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    1. Monks, James, 2003. "Patterns of giving to one's alma mater among young graduates from selective institutions," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 121-130, April.
    2. James Andreoni & Eleanor Brown & Isaac Rischall, 2003. "Charitable Giving by Married Couples Who Decides and Why Does it Matter?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(1).
    3. David A. Reinstein, 2006. "Does One Contribution Come at the Expense of Another? Empirical Evidence on Substitution Between Charitable Donations," Economics Discussion Papers 618, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
    4. Brown, Eleanor & Lankford, Hamilton, 1992. "Gifts of money and gifts of time estimating the effects of tax prices and available time," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(3), pages 321-341, April.
    5. Freeman, Richard B, 1997. "Working for Nothing: The Supply of Volunteer Labor," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages S140-66, January.
    6. Andreoni,J. & Vesterlund,L., 1998. "Which is the fair sex? : Gender differences in altruism," Working papers 10, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
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