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Discrimination in the provision of social services to the poor: a field experimental study

  • Juan Camilo Cárdenas


  • Natalia Candelo


  • Alejandro Gaviria


  • Sandra Polania


We use an experimental field approach to understand better the pro-social preferences andbehavior of both individuals involved in the provision of social services (public servants) and the behavior of those potential beneficiaries, the poor. We conducted field experiments using the Dictator, Ultimatum, Trust and Third Party Punishment games, and a newly designed Distributive Dictator Game. With these, we want to understand the traits and mechanisms that guide pro-sociality including altruism, reciprocal altruism, reciprocity, trust, fairness, inequity aversion, and altruistic (social) punishment. We recruited in Bogotá, Colombia more than 500 public servants and beneficiaries from welfare programs associated with health, education, childcare and nutrition. The overall results replicate the patterns of previous studies with these experimental designs, that is, individuals showed a preference for fair outcomes, positive levels of trust and reciprocity, and willingness to punish -at a personal cost, unfair outcomes if against themselves or if against third parties. By using more information about our participants we were able however to explain the observed variations in these behaviors. The results provide evidence that the poor trigger more pro-social behavior from all citizens including public servants, but the latter show more strategic generosity by graduating their pro-social behavior towards the poor depending on attributes of the beneficiaries or recipients of offers in these games. We observed a bias in favor of women and households with more number of dependents, but discriminatory behavior against particularly stigmatized groups in society such as ex-combatants from the political conflict, or street recyclers2.

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Paper provided by UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE in its series DOCUMENTOS CEDE with number 003885.

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Length: 45
Date of creation: 14 Jul 2007
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Handle: RePEc:col:000089:003885
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  1. Guth, Werner & Schmittberger, Rolf & Schwarze, Bernd, 1982. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 367-388, December.
  2. Forsythe Robert & Horowitz Joel L. & Savin N. E. & Sefton Martin, 1994. "Fairness in Simple Bargaining Experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 347-369, May.
  3. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  4. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Walrasian Economics in Retrospect," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1411-1439.
  5. Becker, Gary S., 1971. "The Economics of Discrimination," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 2, number 9780226041162.
  6. Branas-Garza, Pablo, 2006. "Poverty in dictator games: Awakening solidarity," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 306-320, July.
  7. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2003. "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," NBER Working Papers 9873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Walrasian Economics in Retrospect," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-04, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  9. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2004. "Third-party punishment and social norms," Experimental 0409002, EconWPA.
  10. Juan Camilo Cardenas & Jeffrey Carpenter, 2008. "Behavioural Development Economics: Lessons from Field Labs in the Developing World," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(3), pages 311-338.
  11. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, 2003. "Altruistic Punishment in Humans," Microeconomics 0305006, EconWPA.
  12. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard, 1986. "Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking: Entitlements in the Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 728-41, September.
  13. Christina M. Fong & Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2005. "Behavioural Motives for Income Redistribution," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 38(3), pages 285-297, 09.
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