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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 Note: PE POL
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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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    Cited by:

    1. John F. Helliwell, 2011. "How Can Subjective Well-being Be Improved?," New Directions for Intelligent Government in Canada: Papers in Honour of Ian Stewart,in: Fred Gorbet & Andrew Sharpe (ed.), New Directions for Intelligent Government in Canada: Papers in Honour of Ian Stewart, pages 283-304 Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
    2. Tim Tiefenbach & Florian Kohlbacher, 2015. "Happiness in Japan in Times of Upheaval: Empirical Evidence from the National Survey on Lifestyle Preferences," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 333-366, April.
    3. Edd Cowley & Sarah Smith, 2014. "Motivation and mission in the public sector: evidence from the World Values Survey," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 76(2), pages 241-263, February.
    4. Hungerman, Daniel M., 2014. "The effect of education on religion: Evidence from compulsory schooling laws," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 52-63.
    5. John F. Helliwell & Shun Wang & Jinwen Xu, 2016. "How Durable are Social Norms? Immigrant Trust and Generosity in 132 Countries," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 201-219, August.
    6. Reyniers, Diane & Bhalla, Richa, 2013. "Reluctant altruism and peer pressure in charitable giving," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 48779, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    7. Clark, Andrew E. & D'Ambrosio, Conchita, 2014. "Attitudes to Income Inequality: Experimental and Survey Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 8136, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Binder, Martin & Freytag, Andreas, 2013. "Volunteering, subjective well-being and public policy," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 97-119.
    9. Diane Reyniers & Richa Bhalla, 2013. "Reluctant altruism and peer pressure in charitable giving," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 8(1), pages 7-15, January.
    10. John F. Helliwell, 2014. "Understanding and improving the social context of well-being," Chapters,in: Well-Being and Beyond, chapter 5, pages 125-143 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    11. Lara B. Aknin & Guy Mayraz & John F. Helliwell, 2014. "The Emotional Consequences of Donation Opportunities," NBER Working Papers 20696, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Hajdu, Tamás & Hajdu, Gábor, 2014. "Reduction of income inequality and subjective well-being in Europe," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 8, pages 1-29.
    13. Monica Guillen-Royo & Laura Camfield & Jackeline Velazco, 2013. "Universal and Local Reconciled: Exploring Satisfaction with Universal and Local Goals in Thailand and Bangladesh," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 113(2), pages 627-645, September.
    14. repec:ijp:wpaper:1305 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel & Diener, Ed & Tay, Louis & Xuereb, Cody, 2013. "The objective benefits of subjective well-being," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51669, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    16. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Ed Diener & Louis Tay & Cody Xuereb, 2013. "The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-Being," CEP Discussion Papers dp1236, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    17. J. Dees, 2012. "A Tale of Two Cultures: Charity, Problem Solving, and the Future of Social Entrepreneurship," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 111(3), pages 321-334, December.
    18. Kettner , Sara Elisa & Ceccato , Smarandita, 2014. "Framing Matters in Gender-Paired Dictator Games," Working Papers 0557, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    19. Lara Aknin & Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton, 2012. "Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for a Positive Feedback Loop between Prosocial Spending and Happiness," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 347-355, April.

    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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