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Donative Behavior at the End of Life


  • Jonathan Meer

    (Texas A&M University)

  • Harvey S. Rosen

    (Princeton University)


A general finding in the empirical literature on charitable giving is that among older individuals, both the probability of giving and the conditional amount of donations decrease with age, ceteris paribus. In this paper, we use data on giving by alumni at an anonymous university to investigate end-of-life giving patterns. Our main finding is that taking into account the approach of death substantially changes the age-giving profile for the elderly?in one segment of the age distribution, the independent effect of an increase in age on giving actually changes from negative to positive. We examine how the decline in giving as death approaches varies with the length of time that a given condition is likely to bring about death, and the individual?s age when he died. We find that for individuals who died from conditions that bring about death fairly quickly, there is little decline in giving as death approaches compared to those who died from other causes. Further, the decline in giving as death approaches is steeper for the elderly (for whom death is less likely to be a surprise) than for the relatively young. These findings suggest that our primary result, that failing to take into account the approach of death leads to biased inferences with respect to the age-giving profile, is not merely an artifact of some kind of nonlinearity in the relationship between age and giving.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Meer & Harvey S. Rosen, 2013. "Donative Behavior at the End of Life," Working Papers 1466, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:236rosen.pdf

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Clotfelter, C. T., 2003. "Alumni giving to elite private colleges and universities," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 109-120, April.
    2. Warren B. Hrung, 2004. "After-Life Consumption and Charitable Giving," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(3), pages 731-745, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sanders, Michael & Smith, Sarah, 2016. "Can simple prompts increase bequest giving? Field evidence from a legal call centre," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 179-191.

    More about this item


    charitable giving; aging; financing of higher education; philanthropy; terror management theory;

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods


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