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Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests

  • Audrey Light
  • Kathleen McGarry

Economists have invested a great deal of effort in trying to understand the motivation for family transfers, yet recent empirical work testing the seemingly appealing models of altruism and exchange has led to decidedly mixed results. A major stumbling block has been the lack of adequate data. We take a fresh look at the issue using responses to an innovative survey question that directly asks mother about the planned division of their estates. We find that both altruism and exchange are frequently offered as explanations of behavior and are of nearly equal importance. Furthermore, the explanations are consistent with observable characteristics of the mother, lending support to the validity of the question. We also find that among step or adopted families, genetic ties play an important role. Because motivating factors appear to differ across families the lack of a consensus among previous researchers about motives ought not to be surprising.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 94 (2004)
Issue (Month): 5 (December)
Pages: 1669-1681

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:94:y:2004:i:5:p:1669-1681
Note: DOI: 10.1257/0002828043052321
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