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Does Where You Stand Depend on Where You Sit? Tithing Donations and Self-Serving Beliefs

  • Michael R. Ransom
  • Gordon B. Dahl

Economists and psychologists argue that individuals skew personal beliefs to accord with their own interests. To test for the presence of self-serving beliefs, we surveyed 1,200 members of the Mormon Church about tithing. A tithe is a voluntary contribution equal to 10 percent of income. Since respondents must decide privately what income items to tithe, we observe how the income definition depends on an individual's religious and financial incentives. We find surprisingly little evidence that an individual's financial situation influences beliefs about what counts as income for the tithe. However, ambiguity increases the role for self-serving biases.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.89.4.703
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 89 (1999)
Issue (Month): 4 (September)
Pages: 703-727

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:89:y:1999:i:4:p:703-727
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.89.4.703
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  1. Linda Babcock & George Loewenstein, 1997. "Explaining Bargaining Impasse: The Role of Self-Serving Biases," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 109-126, Winter.
  2. Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. "Reference points, anchors, norms, and mixed feelings," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 296-312, March.
  3. Gordon B. Dahl, 2002. "The 10% Flat Tax: Tithing and the Definition of Income," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 40(1), pages 120-137, January.
  4. Matthew Rabin., 1995. "Moral Preferences, Moral Constraints, and Self-Serving Biases," Economics Working Papers 95-241, University of California at Berkeley.
  5. Lewellen, Wilbur G. & Park, Taewoo & Ro, Byung T., 1996. "Self-serving behavior in managers' discretionary information disclosure decisions," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 227-251, April.
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