Altruistic Behavior and Habit Formation
This paper examines whether altruistic behavior is habit forming. We take advantage of a data set that includes a rich set of information concerning individuals’ donations of cash and time as adults as well as information about whether they were involved with charitable activities when they were young. The basic premise is that if altruistic behavior when young is a good predictor of such behavior in adulthood, then this is consistent with the notion that altruistic behavior is habit forming. Using U.S. data, we examine both donations of money and time, and find that engaging in charitable behavior when young is a strong predictor of adult altruistic behavior, ceteris paribus. A major issue in the interpretation of this result is that the correlation between youthful and adult altruistic behavior may be due to some third variable that affects both. While it is impossible to rule out such a possibility, we are able to control for family influences that likely could affect lifetime attitudes toward altruism. We find that, even taking this factor into account, altruistic behavior as a youth plays a significant role in explaining adult behavior. This result applies to donations of money and time to a variety of types of non-profit organizations.
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