People with less money more likely to share wealth with others, study finds

People who have earned more money are far less likely to display generosity, research has found

Sabrina Barr
Friday 29 June 2018 12:28 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

People who are less financially well off are more likely to share their money with others, a new study has discovered.

A team of researchers from Queen Mary University of London carried out a social experiment to explore the degree to which wealth can impact a person’s ability to be generous.

The people who took part in the investigation were given a “higher status” or a “lower status”, which was determined by the amount of money that they were given by the researchers.

During the experiment, the participants had to decide how much of their money they wanted to keep for themselves and how much they wanted to put into a group pot that would be shared with everyone else.

The study, published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, found that on the whole, those who had been classified as “low status” were more likely to put money in the group pot than those who had been deemed “high status”.

Furthermore, the “high status” individuals who had acquired their money through their own efforts as opposed to random chance had an even lower probability of displaying their generous nature.

“For the high status individuals, the way in which wealth was achieved, whether through chance or effort, appeared to be the key factor determining the level of cooperation observed,” says lead author Dr Magda Osman, a reader in experimental psychology at Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

“This wasn’t the case for the low status individuals.

“How they got to their low status made no difference to their behaviour in the game.”

She explained that while those who had earned their riches through their own efforts had a greater probability of wanting to keep it for themselves, those of a lower status were more likely to work with others in order to increase their wealth.

“When you have limited status one obvious strategic way to increase it, is through cooperation,” she states.

“The point here being that even if one is acting cooperatively, there is no reason to think that this is purely for altruistic reasons.”

One of the key takeaways from the experiment was that those of a “lower status” were willing to take a far greater risk by putting money in the group pot, as they had no guarantee that the rest of those taking part would do the same.

Furthermore, the team also noted that empathy had very little impact on the participants’ decisions during the study.

“The other surprising finding is that empathy has next to no impact on promoting pro-social behaviour, in other words contributing money to the group pot,” she says.

“This matters because there are a lot of claims that empathy is the glue that binds people to act socially.

“What we show is that when money matters, empathy plays virtually no role in improving pro-social behaviours."

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