IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this book chapter

Introduction to the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity

In: Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity


  • Kolm, Serge-Christophe


Altruism, giving and pro-social conduct, and reciprocity, are the basis of the existence and performance of societies, through their various occurrences: in families; among the diverse motives of the political and public sector; as the general respect and moral conduct which permit life in society and exchanges; for remedying "failures" of markets and organizations (which they sometimes also create); and in charity and specific organizations. Altruism has various origins: it can be hedonistic or natural altruism in empathy, affection, sympathy, emotional contagion, pity, and compassion; or normative altruism of the moral, non-moral social, and rational types. Giving can be altruistic, aimed at producing some social effect in the fields of social sentiments, situations or relations, an intrinsic norm, or self-interested. Reciprocity, in which a gift elicits another gift, is a pervasive social relation due to either a desire of balance (and possibly fairness), or to liking a benevolent giver (moreover, self-interested sequential exchanges look like it). Joint giving for alleviating poverty and need makes giving a contribution to a pure public good for which efficient public transfers crowd out private gifts. Yet, private giving can be an intrinsic norm or a demand of reason, or it can be motivated by the non-moral concern about judgments of others or of oneself. Families - the institutions for love and giving - are networks of reciprocities. Intertemporal giving includes gifts to future generation through bequests, and to earlier generations through the relevant public indebtedness ("retro-gifts"). Normative opinions about societies, and in particular about justice, imply and require altruism and constitute a form of it. Moreover, altruism is the mark of good social relations and good persons. Altruism and giving have always been analysed by economics, notably by all great economists, with an upsurge of studies in the last third of the 20th century.

Suggested Citation

  • Kolm, Serge-Christophe, 2006. "Introduction to the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity," Handbook on the Economics of Giving, Reciprocity and Altruism, in: S. Kolm & Jean Mercier Ythier (ed.), Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 1, pages 1-122, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:givchp:1-01

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Brown, Sarah & Harris, Mark N. & Taylor, Karl, 2012. "Modelling charitable donations to an unexpected natural disaster: Evidence from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 97-110.
    2. Yao-Yu Chih, 2018. "Status competition and benevolence in social networks," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(1), pages 141-162.
    3. Echazu, Luciana & Nocetti, Diego, 2015. "Charitable giving: Altruism has no limits," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 46-53.
    4. Fernanda Mazzotta & Lavinia Parisi, 2020. "Money and time: what would you give back to me? Reciprocity between children and their elderly parents in Europe," Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, Springer;Fondazione Edison, vol. 37(3), pages 941-969, October.
    5. Manner, Mikko & Gowdy, John, 2010. "The evolution of social and moral behavior: Evolutionary insights for public policy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(4), pages 753-761, February.
    6. Solé, Meritxell & Souto, Guadalupe & Renteria, Elisenda & Papadomichelakis, Giorgos & Patxot, Concepció, 2020. "Protecting the elderly and children in times of crisis: An analysis based on National Transfer Accounts," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 15(C).
    7. van der Pol, Thomas & Weikard, Hans-Peter & van Ierland, Ekko, 2012. "Can altruism stabilise international climate agreements?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 112-120.
    8. Bénédicte de Peyrelongue & Olivier Masclef & Valérie Guillard, 2017. "The Need to Give Gratuitously: A Relevant Concept Anchored in Catholic Social Teaching to Envision the Consumer Behavior," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 145(4), pages 739-755, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:givchp:1-01. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Nithya Sathishkumar). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.