Resource asymmetry reduces generosity and paying forward generosity, among the resource-advantaged and disadvantaged
Decisions to benefit others often entail generalized reciprocity: helping someone who cannot directly return benefits in the future; instead, the beneficiary may “pay it forward” to someone else. While much past work demonstrates that people pay forward generosity, experimental tests of these processes typically assume that people have equal access to same-valued resources that they can use to benefit others. Yet this is rare in daily life, where people commonly experience asymmetries in the resources that they have to help others and to pay forward help received. In an experiment, we find that acts of generalized reciprocity—including initiating generosity and, upon being treated generously, paying it forward—are reduced when there is resource asymmetry between potential benefactors. Results show that the detriments of resource asymmetry occur among both the resource-advantaged and the disadvantaged. Asymmetry in available resources, and inequality more broadly, is thus critical for understanding patterns of generosity.
Harrell, A; Greenleaf, AS
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