Psychology Magazine

Are Rich People Really Less Generous Than Poor People?

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
Here is a ‘fact’ (that rich people are less generous than poor people) that I had locked into mind that turns out to be wrong. They are not less generous, contra the findings of an often cited 2015 landmark study. From Schmukle et al.:
Significance
Are the rich less generous than the poor? Results of studies on this topic have been inconsistent. Recent research that has received widespread academic and media attention has provided evidence that higher income individuals are less generous than poorer individuals only if they reside in a US state with comparatively large economic inequality. However, in large representative datasets from the United States (study 1), Germany (study 2), and 30 countries (study 3), we did not find any evidence for such an effect. Instead, our results suggest that the rich are not less generous than the poor, even when economic inequality is large. This result has implications for contemporary debates on what increasing inequality in resource distributions means for modern societies.
Abstract
A landmark study published in PNAS [Côté S, House J, Willer R (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112:15838–15843] showed that higher income individuals are less generous than poorer individuals only if they reside in a US state with comparatively large economic inequality. This finding might serve to reconcile inconsistent findings on the effect of social class on generosity by highlighting the moderating role of economic inequality. On the basis of the importance of replicating a major finding before readily accepting it as evidence, we analyzed the effect of the interaction between income and inequality on generosity in three large representative datasets. We analyzed the donating behavior of 27,714 US households (study 1), the generosity of 1,334 German individuals in an economic game (study 2), and volunteering to participate in charitable activities in 30,985 participants from 30 countries (study 3). We found no evidence for the postulated moderation effect in any study. This result is especially remarkable because (i) our samples were very large, leading to high power to detect effects that exist, and (ii) the cross-country analysis employed in study 3 led to much greater variability in economic inequality. These findings indicate that the moderation effect might be rather specific and cannot be easily generalized. Consequently, economic inequality might not be a plausible explanation for the heterogeneous results on the effect of social class on prosociality.

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