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Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving

  • Stefano DellaVigna
  • John A. List
  • Ulrike Malmendier

Every year, 90 percent of Americans give money to charities. Is such generosity necessarily welfare enhancing for the giver? We present a theoretical framework that distinguishes two types of motivation: individuals like to give, e.g., due to altruism or warm glow, and individuals would rather not give but dislike saying no, e.g., due to social pressure. We design a door-to-door fund-raising drive in which some households are informed about the exact time of solicitation with a flyer on their door-knobs; thus, they can seek or avoid the fund-raiser. We find that the flyer reduces the share of households opening the door by 10 to 25 percent and, if the flyer allows checking a `Do Not Disturb' box, reduces giving by 30 percent. The latter decrease is concentrated among donations smaller than $10. These findings suggest that social pressure is an important determinant of door-to-door giving. Combining data from this and a complementary field experiment, we structurally estimate the model. The estimated social pressure cost of saying no to a solicitor is $3.5 for an in-state charity and $1.4 for an out-of-state charity. Our welfare calculations suggest that our door-to-door fund-raising campaigns on average lower utility of the potential donors.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15629.

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Date of creation: Dec 2009
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Publication status: published as Stefano DellaVigna & John A. List & Ulrike Malmendier, 2012. "Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(1), pages 1-56.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15629
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