Truth In Giving: Experimental Evidence On The Welfare Effects Of Informed Giving To The Poor

Fong, Christina M.; Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, (2011). Truth In Giving: Experimental Evidence On The Welfare Effects Of Informed Giving To The Poor. Journal Of Public Economics, 95, 5-6, 436–444.

Keywords: Philanthropy, experiments, information, self-serving motivations

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Related tools: Info on recipients' deservingness

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Paper summary

Fong, C., Oberholzer-Gee, F., Truth in giving: Experimental evidence on the welfare effects of informed giving to the poor, J. Public Econ. (2010)

  • dictators from the university community [Carnegie-Mellon]
  • Real-life welfare recipients living in 178 public housing in Pittsburgh
  • Choice treatment: Can choose to pay $1 to learn about subject’s drug/disability
  • Exogenous: this information is provided freely. (Also tested with comparable $9 endowment)


”“both types of recipients are worse off when dictators can choose to learn”“ … [but] dictators are weakly better off by construction

. . .

”“In the endogenous information treatment, we not only ask dictators how much they want to give to a poor person, we also encourage them to think about why the recipients are poor, possibly highlighting reasons not to give”“

. . .

”“a third of subjects are willing to sacrifice resources to obtain additional information”“


  • But it's not a fair comparison: those who decide not to buy information appear less generous than the average

Eyeballing their results on exogenous information (e.g., regression table 4)

  • It increases transfers to the disabled by about $1-$3 (statistically significant) but decreases transfers to drug-abusers a small amount (insignificant)
    • Seems to increase transfers on average


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This paper has been added by David Reinstein

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