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Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal

Author

Listed:
  • Lara B. Aknin
  • Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh
  • Elizabeth W. Dunn
  • John F. Helliwell
  • Robert Biswas-Diener
  • Imelda Kemeza
  • Paul Nyende
  • Claire E. Ashton-James
  • Michael I. Norton

Abstract

This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness. To test for causality, we conduct experiments within two very different countries (Canada and Uganda) and show that spending money on others has a consistent, causal impact on happiness. In contrast to traditional economic thought--which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation--our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.

Suggested Citation

  • Lara B. Aknin & Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & Elizabeth W. Dunn & John F. Helliwell & Robert Biswas-Diener & Imelda Kemeza & Paul Nyende & Claire E. Ashton-James & Michael I. Norton, 2010. "Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal," NBER Working Papers 16415, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16415
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16415.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, July.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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