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Altruism by age and social proximity

Mark Long () and Eleanor Krause

PLOS ONE, 2017, vol. 12, issue 8, 1-24

Abstract: This study evaluates the extent to which an individual’s stated altruistic sentiments can be influenced by context–most importantly, by the age and social proximity of the other person and by the nature of what is being sacrificed. We measure willingness to sacrifice own health for another person’s health and willingness to sacrifice own wealth for another person’s wealth. To evaluate these sentiments, two surveys were administered to representative samples of Americans which contained hypothetical scenarios with context randomly assigned; the first survey posed a dictator game question and the second survey was designed to elicit marginal rates of substitution between own and other’s health/wealth. As expected, we find less altruism towards those who are more socially distant (e.g., strangers relative to family). We find individuals are more health altruistic towards young children and more wealth altruistic towards adults, and health altruism tends to be lowest for survey respondents near retirement age. We find no relationship between levels of altruism and the distance between the respondent’s state of birth and state of current residence. These findings improve society’s understanding of situational altruism and kinship and reciprocity as motivations for altruism, and they have practical implications concerning the economic valuation of human lives used to guide public policy-making.

Date: 2017
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:plo:pone00:0180411

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180411

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