People with higher bonuses don't give more to charity

April 4, 2014, University of Southampton
People with higher bonuses don’t give more to charity
Research finds people with higher bonuses don't give more to charity.

( —Research by economists at the University of Southampton has shown people who receive higher bonuses are less likely to give to charity than those on lower earnings.

The study by Dr Mirco Tonin and Dr Michael Vlassopoulos shows higher earners are less inclined to give, and donate a similar share of their money compared to those on lower incomes.

The researchers also found that people getting high bonuses tended to attribute their windfall to their own hard work or achievement, even if in fact it was actually just down to good fortune.

Dr Mirco Tonin comments: "Our findings suggest that receiving higher pay due to good luck is not generating a stronger need to 'give back to society'. This is probably because people instinctively attribute their high pay or bonuses to being a reward purely for their own skills and effort, even if there is actually an element of luck involved. As such, they feel entitled to the money."

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, set out to explore whether people who earn a higher income are more likely to give when placed in an environment in which earnings depend on luck, but not in a manner that makes its contribution obvious to them.

The researchers recruited 104 people to perform a data entry task for a fixed wage of £5 per hour, plus a performance dependent . Despite very similar performances from all the participants, half of them were given a low bonus (£2 per hour), while the other half received a high bonus (£6 per hour). None of the participants were aware that the size of the performance bonus they received was actually being determined randomly. After completing their four hour job, all those taking part were asked whether they wanted to donate some of their earnings to .

Thirty seven per cent of those receiving a low bonus decided to give a share to charity, while the figure was 21 per cent for those receiving a bonus that was three times higher. In addition, donors in the two groups gave a similar share of their earnings to charity – 9 per cent.

Dr Tonin says: "Psychologists have well documented the human tendency to attribute good outcomes to their own actions, rather than to external factors such as luck – the so called 'self-serving attribution bias'. In our case, this process may lead subjects in the high bonus group to make an assumption that their high were due to their own effort, even if in reality this isn't the case. In turn, this distorted feeling of entitlement may furnish subjects in the higher earner group with the moral ground not to act more generously."

The researchers highlight that, from a fundraising perspective, the study suggests that charities should not target their effort towards high earners and disregard low earners, but rather spread their effort across the whole of society.

Explore further: Shifting employee bonuses from self to others increases satisfaction and productivity at work

More information: The paper, Sharing One's Fortune? An Experimental Study on Earned Income and Giving can be found here. It will be presented at the Royal Economic Society Annual Meeting (April 7 – 9, 2014).

The report is available here:

Related Stories

IBM's CEO, other top execs give up 2013 bonuses

February 1, 2014

IBM CEO Virginia Rometty and the rest of her senior management team are relinquishing their 2013 bonuses as penance for the technology company's lackluster performance last year.

Looking out for #1 can make you happy, if you have no choice

October 9, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—We are, at our core, social creatures and we spend considerable time and effort on building and maintaining our relationships with others. As young children, we're taught that "sharing means caring" and, ...

Listening to whispers at the water cooler

March 6, 2014

Just as she was about to retire, Lily Ledbetter, a production supervisor at an Alabama tire plant, learned that her employers had financially discriminated against her throughout her career. She filed suit for pay discrimination, ...

Recommended for you

A statistical look at the probability of future major wars

February 22, 2018

Aaron Clauset, an assistant professor and computer scientist at the University of Colorado, has taken a calculating look at the likelihood of a major war breaking out in the near future. In an article published on the open ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.