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The intergenerational transmission of generosity


  • Wilhelm, Mark Ottoni
  • Brown, Eleanor
  • Rooney, Patrick M.
  • Steinberg, Richard


This paper estimates the correlation between the generosity of parents and the generosity of their adult children using regression models of adult children's charitable giving. New charitable giving data are collected in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and used to estimate the regression models. The regression models are estimated using a wide variety of techniques and specification tests, and the strength of the intergenerational giving correlations is compared with intergenerational correlations in income, wealth, and consumption expenditure from the same sample using the same set of controls. We find the religious giving of parents and children to be strongly correlated, as strongly correlated as are their income and wealth. The correlation in the secular giving (e.g., giving to the United Way, educational institutions, for poverty relief) of parents and children is smaller, similar in magnitude to the intergenerational correlation in consumption. Parents' religious giving is positively associated with children's secular giving, but in a more limited sense. Overall, the results are consistent with generosity emerging at least in part from the influence of parental charitable behavior. In contrast to intergenerational models in which parental generosity towards their children can undo government transfer policy (Ricardian equivalence), these results suggest that parental generosity towards charitable organizations might reinforce government policies, such as tax incentives aimed at encouraging voluntary transfers.

Suggested Citation

  • Wilhelm, Mark Ottoni & Brown, Eleanor & Rooney, Patrick M. & Steinberg, Richard, 2008. "The intergenerational transmission of generosity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 2146-2156, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:10-11:p:2146-2156

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    References listed on IDEAS

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