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Preferences over the Fair Division of Goods: Information, Good, and Sample Effects in a Health Context


  • Jeremiah Hurley

    () (Department of Economics, Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis, McMaster University, Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University)

  • Neil Buckley

    () (Department of Economics, York University)

  • Kate Cuff

    () (Department of Economics, McMaster University)

  • Mita Giacomini

    () (Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis, McMaster University)

  • David Cameron

    (Department of Economics, McMaster University, Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis, McMaster University)


Greater recognition by economists of the influential role that concern for distributional equity exerts on decision making in a variety of economic contexts has spurred interest in empirical research on the public judgments of fair distribution. Using a stated-preference experimental design, this paper contributes to the growing literature on fair division by investigating the empirical support for each of five distributional principles — equal division among recipients, Rawlsian maximin, total benefit maximization, equal benefit for recipients, and allocation according to relative need among recipients — in the division of a fixed bundle of a good across settings that differ with respect to the good being allocated (a health care good — pills, and non-health care but still health-affecting good — apples) and the way that alternative possible divisions of the good are described (quantitative information only, verbal information only, and both). It also offers new evidence on sample effects (university sample vs. community samples) and how the aggregate ranking of principles is affected by alternative vote-scoring methods. We find important information effects. When presented with quantitative information only, support for the division to equalize benefit across recipients is consistent with that found in previous research; changing to verbal descriptions causes a notable shift in support among principles, especially between equal division of the goods and total benefit maximization. The judgments made when presented with both quantitative and verbal information match more closely those made with quantitative-only descriptions rather than verbal-only descriptions, suggesting that the quantitative information dominates. The information effects we observe are consistent with a lack of understanding among participants as to the relationship between the principles and the associated quantitative allocations. We also find modest good effects in the expected direction: the fair division of pills is tied more closely to benefit-related criterion than is the fair division of apples (even though both produce health benefits). We find evidence of only small differences between the university and community samples and important sex-information interactions.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremiah Hurley & Neil Buckley & Kate Cuff & Mita Giacomini & David Cameron, 2009. "Preferences over the Fair Division of Goods: Information, Good, and Sample Effects in a Health Context," Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis Working Paper Series 2009-01, Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis (CHEPA), McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.
  • Handle: RePEc:hpa:wpaper:200901

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    Distributive justice; equity; resource allocation; health care;

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health

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