Higher socioeconomic status does not predict decreased prosocial behavior in a field experiment

James Andreoni, Nikos Nikiforakis, Jan Stoop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does higher socioeconomic status predict decreased prosocial behavior? Methodological issues such as the reliance of survey studies on self-reported measures of prosociality, the insufficient control of relative incentives in experiments, and the use of non-random samples, have prevented researchers from ruling out that there is a negative association between socioeconomic status (SES) and prosociality. Here, we present results from a field experiment on the willingness of unaware individuals of different SES to undertake an effortful prosocial task—returning a misdelivered letter. Specifically, using the rental or sale value of homes as indicators of SES, we randomly selected households of high and low SES and misdelivered envelopes to them. Despite controlling for numerous covariates and performing a series of ancillary tests, we fail to find any evidence that higher SES predicts decreased prosocial behavior. Instead, we find that misdelivered letters are substantially more likely to be returned from high rather than low SES households.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4266
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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