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Conspicuous generosity


  • Ellingsen, Tore
  • Johannesson, Magnus


We develop a simple model of generous behavior. It is based on the premise that some people are generous, but everyone wants to appear generous—especially in the eyes of other generous people. Although non-monetary donations are always inefficient, they frequently occur in equilibrium because they facilitate signaling. The model helps to explain the prevalence of volunteering, the nature of Christmas gifts, and the taboo against paying cash in return for friendly favors. Finally, and perhaps most notably, the model explains why it is so common to ask for non-monetary favors and so uncommon to ask for money.

Suggested Citation

  • Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus, 2011. "Conspicuous generosity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(9), pages 1131-1143.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:95:y:2011:i:9:p:1131-1143 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2011.05.002

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alan S. Gerber & Dean Karlan & Daniel Bergan, 2009. "Does the Media Matter? A Field Experiment Measuring the Effect of Newspapers on Voting Behavior and Political Opinions," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 35-52, April.
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    5. Matthew Gentzkow & Edward L. Glaeser & Claudia Goldin, 2006. "The Rise of the Fourth Estate. How Newspapers Became Informative and Why It Mattered," NBER Chapters,in: Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, pages 187-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Bernhardt, Dan & Krasa, Stefan & Polborn, Mattias, 2008. "Political polarization and the electoral effects of media bias," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1092-1104, June.
    7. Tim Groseclose & Jeffrey Milyo, 2005. "A Measure of Media Bias," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1191-1237.
    8. Valentino Larcinese, 2003. "The Instrumental Voter Goes to the News-Agent: Demand for Information, Election Closeness, and the Media," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 579.03, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
    9. repec:cup:apsrev:v:83:y:1989:i:02:p:567-573_08 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Timothy Besley & Andrea Prat, 2006. "Handcuffs for the Grabbing Hand? Media Capture and Government Accountability," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 720-736, June.
    11. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2010. "What Drives Media Slant? Evidence From U.S. Daily Newspapers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(1), pages 35-71, January.
    12. repec:cup:apsrev:v:96:y:2002:i:02:p:381-394_00 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Christiane Bradler & Robert Dur & Susanne Neckermann & Arjan Non, 2016. "Employee Recognition and Performance: A Field Experiment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 62(11), pages 3085-3099, November.
    2. repec:kap:expeco:v:20:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10683-016-9485-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Mirco Tonin & Michael Vlassopoulos, 2014. "An experimental investigation of intrinsic motivations for giving," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 76(1), pages 47-67, January.
    4. Michael Kirchler & Stefan Palan, 2016. "Immaterial and Monetary Gifts in Economic Transactions - Evidence from the Field," Working Paper Series, Social and Economic Sciences 2016-01, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University Graz.
    5. Gächter, Simon & Gerhards, Leonie & Nosenzo, Daniele, 2017. "The importance of peers for compliance with norms of fair sharing," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 72-86.
    6. Yann Algan & Yochai Benkler & Mayo Fuster Morell & Jerome Hergueux, 2013. "Cooperation in Peer-Production Economy: Experimental Evidence from Wikipedia," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/5ulf84sluc9, Sciences Po.
    7. Cartwright, Edward & Patel, Amrish, 2013. "How category reporting can improve fundraising," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 73-90.
    8. Bracha, Anat & Vesterlund, Lise, 2013. "How low can you go? Charity reporting when donations signal income and generosity," Working Papers 13-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    9. Kriss, Peter H. & Weber, Roberto A. & Xiao, Erte, 2016. "Turning a blind eye, but not the other cheek: On the robustness of costly punishment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 159-177.
    10. Luca Zarri, 2013. "Altruism," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise, chapter 1, pages 9-19 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    11. Tonin, Mirco & Vlassopoulos, Michael, 2013. "Experimental evidence of self-image concerns as motivation for giving," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 19-27.
    12. Laura Birg & Anna Goeddeke, 2016. "Christmas Economics—A Sleigh Ride," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 54(4), pages 1980-1984, October.
    13. Michel André Maréchal & Christian Thöni, 2016. "Hidden persuaders: do small gifts lubricate business negotiations?," ECON - Working Papers 227, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    14. Khadjavi, Menusch & Lange, Andreas & Nicklisch, Andreas, 2014. "The Social Value of Transparency and Accountability: Experimental Evidence from Asymmetric Public Good Games," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100512, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    15. repec:eee:gamebe:v:104:y:2017:i:c:p:24-42 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Rotemberg, Julio J., 2014. "Charitable giving when altruism and similarity are linked," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 36-49.
    17. Shih-Ying Wu, 2014. "Does charitable gambling crowd out charitable donations? Using matching to analyze a policy reform," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 21(6), pages 975-996, December.
    18. repec:inn:wpaper:2014-31 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. repec:kap:expeco:v:21:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s10683-017-9536-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Ghosh, Suman & Shankar, Kameshwari, 2013. "Red, white and pink: Linking public good contributions to private good sales," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 96-108.

    More about this item


    Altruism; Non–monetary gifts; Volunteering;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • J20 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - General


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