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Social preferences of future physicians


  • Li, Jing
  • Dow, William H
  • Kariv, Shachar


We measure the social preferences of a sample of US medical students and compare their preferences with those of the general population sampled in the American Life Panel (ALP). We also compare the medical students with a subsample of highly educated, wealthy ALP subjects as well as elite law school students and undergraduate students. We further associate the heterogeneity in social preferences within medical students to the tier ranking of their medical schools and their expected specialty choice. Our experimental design allows us to rigorously distinguish altruism from preferences regarding equality-efficiency tradeoffs and accurately measure both at the individual level rather than pooling data or assuming homogeneity across subjects. This is particularly informative, because the subjects in our sample display widely heterogeneous social preferences in terms of both their altruism and equality-efficiency tradeoffs. We find that medical students are substantially less altruistic and more efficiency focused than the average American. Furthermore, medical students attending the top-ranked medical schools are less altruistic than those attending lower-ranked schools. We further show that the social preferences of those attending top-ranked medical schools are statistically indistinguishable from the preferences of a sample of elite law school students. The key limitation of this study is that our experimental measures of social preferences have not yet been externally validated against actual physician practice behaviors. Pending this future research, we probed the predictive validity of our experimental measures of social preferences by showing that the medical students choosing higher-paying medical specialties are less altruistic than those choosing lower-paying specialties.

Suggested Citation

  • Li, Jing & Dow, William H & Kariv, Shachar, 2017. "Social preferences of future physicians," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt5vw9g5tj, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:econwp:qt5vw9g5tj

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    Cited by:

    1. Aluma Dembo & Shachar Kariv & Matthew Polisson & John K.-H. Quah, 2021. "Ever Since Allais," Bristol Economics Discussion Papers 21/745, School of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    2. Grech, Philip D. & Nax, Heinrich H., 2020. "Rational altruism? On preference estimation and dictator game experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 309-338.
    3. Griebenow, Malte, 2023. "Should physicians team up to treat chronic diseases?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(C).
    4. Mir Adnan Mahmood & John Rehbeck, 2022. "Correcting for Random Budgets in Revealed Preference Experiments," Games, MDPI, vol. 13(2), pages 1-14, April.
    5. Wang, Jian & Iversen, Tor & Hennig-Schmidt, Heike & Godager, Geir, 2020. "Are patient-regarding preferences stable? Evidence from a laboratory experiment with physicians and medical students from different countries," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 125(C).
    6. Chodick, Gabriel & Goldstein, Yoav & Shurtz, Ity & Zeltzer, Dan, 2022. "Challenging Encounters and Within-Physician Practice Variability," IZA Discussion Papers 15441, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Attema, Arthur E. & Galizzi, Matteo M. & Groß, Mona & Hennig-Schmidt, Heike & Karay, Yassin & L’Haridon, Olivier & Wiesen, Daniel, 2023. "The formation of physician altruism," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(C).
    8. Keigo Inukai & Yuta Shimodaira & Kohei Shiozawa, 2022. "Empirical properties of an extended CES utility function in representing distributional preferences," ISER Discussion Paper 1199, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    9. Besancenot, Damien & Vranceanu, Radu, 2020. "Profession and deception: Experimental evidence on lying behavior among business and medical students," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 179(C), pages 175-187.
    10. Franziska Brendel & Lisa Einhaus & Franziska Then, 2021. "Resource scarcity and prioritization decisions in medical care: A lab experiment with heterogeneous patient types," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(2), pages 470-477, February.
    11. Ge Ge & Geir Godager & Jian Wang, 2022. "Exploring physician agency under demand‐side cost sharing—An experimental approach," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 31(6), pages 1202-1227, June.
    12. Ye-Seul Lee & Hyun-Seo Song & Hackjin Kim & Younbyoung Chae, 2019. "Altruistic decisions are influenced by the allocation of monetary incentives in a pain-sharing game," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 14(3), pages 1-16, March.
    13. Juliana Bernhofer & Alessandro Fedele & Mirco Tonin, 2022. "Wage Expectations and Access to Healthcare Occupations: Evidence from an Information Experiment," BEMPS - Bozen Economics & Management Paper Series BEMPS95, Faculty of Economics and Management at the Free University of Bozen.
    14. Hardardottir, Hjördis & Gerdtham, Ulf-G. & Wengström, Erik, 2019. "What Kind of Inequality Do You Prefer? Evaluating Measures of Income and Health Inequality Using Choice Experiments," Working Papers 2019:7, Lund University, Department of Economics, revised 31 May 2019.
    15. Cadena, Brian C. & Smith, Austin C., 2022. "Performance pay, productivity, and strategic opt-out: Evidence from a community health center," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 206(C).
    16. Hjördis Hardardottir & Ulf‐G Gerdtham & Erik Wengström, 2021. "Parameterizing standard measures of income and health inequality using choice experiments," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(10), pages 2531-2546, September.
    17. Jan (J.P.M.) Heufer & Jason Shachat & Yan Xu, 2018. "Measuring tastes for equity and aggregate wealth behind the veil of ignorance," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 18-087/I, Tinbergen Institute.
    18. Su, Siyan, 2022. "Updating politicized beliefs: How motivated reasoning contributes to polarization," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 96(C).
    19. Li, Jing, 2018. "Plastic surgery or primary care? Altruistic preferences and expected specialty choice of U.S. medical students," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 45-59.


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