Getting the Wealthy to Donate

In How We Behave On

Consider: If you don’t have much money, you have to ask your friends and family to help you move your belongings from one apartment to another — which means you will probably have to help them when they move. But if you have money, you are likely to leave your friends and family out of it and hire professional movers. Over time, such experiences enable wealthier people to more easily embrace notions of independence and personal control over life. Less affluent people, meanwhile, must stay attuned to others’ needs and goals in order to satisfy their own.

From the first years of their children’s lives, parents of different socioeconomic status prepare their kids for these different social worlds. As researchers have shown, wealthier parents tend to teach their children to stand out as individuals and pursue their own goals, while less affluent parents tend to teach their kids to prioritize the needs of the group. It’s no wonder the wealthy are less inclined toward charitable giving.

But what if we changed the way we talked about charity, so that it better resonated with how wealthy people think of themselves? Would they donate more? To find out, we conducted a series of studies, the results of which were published this month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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