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Poor people more likely to give, study finds

A social experiment has uncovered low-income earners are more likely to give

Low-income earners are more likely to be charitable givers, but contributing money to pro-social causes is not linked to empathy, a report has found.

A team of researchers from Queen Mary University of London found people with a less financially stable position in society were more likely to share their money to pro-social causes in a social experiment that determined how wealth impacts generosity.

Lead author from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Dr Magda Osman, said: “For the high status individuals, the way in which wealth was achieved appeared to be the key factor determining the level of cooperation observed.

“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.”

The social experiment involved a group of people assigned to either “higher status” or “lower status” with real money. The people in the experiment decided how much they would keep for themselves and how much would be distributed among the group.

The study also found that those in higher status position consistently failed to express empathetic giving.

“Empathy has next to no impact on promoting pro-social behaviour,” Osman said.

“This matters because there was a lot of claims that empathy is the glue that binds people to act socially,” Osman added. “What we show is that when money matters, empathy plays virtually no role in improving pro-social behaviours.”

Osman said that if a person gained their higher status through effort, rather than by chance, they were more likely to keep what they had. Osman also argued low-income earners strategic way of increasing their own wealth was through cooperation.

“What is surprising is that low status individuals are willing to take bigger risks, with fewer resources than the high status individuals. In other words, you take a risk by being pro-social because you have no idea if it will be reciprocated.”

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