What you don’t get from your parents

You get a lot from your parents.  Money, ‘human capital’ as they call it these days.  Language, political orientation (to a substantial extent).  If your ideology is your ‘values’ then I’m sure that parents play a large part. But how public spirited are you? Turns out knowing how public spirited your parents are at games designed to elicit this information doesn’t help tell how public spirited you are.  Strange.

The full paper is here. But you can read a short crib here.  And an extract from it below the fold. 

The experiment is based on a rather straightforward public good game. Participants gets some tokens and they decide how many to keep and how many to put in the pot. Whatever is in the pot after each participant has made his/her choice (without knowing yet what the others have chosen) is doubled and divided evenly among the participants. Obviously, the participants would be best off if they could all commit to putting all their tokens in the pot everyone would double his/her money. But each participant has an incentive to put in nothing.: indeed, this is the best action whatever the others decide.

As usual in this type of games, in our experiment we observe more pro-sociality than simple game theory predicts. The interesting part of the experiment, however, comes when we compare the behaviour of children with that of their parents. The surprising result is that there is not correlation between the number of tokens contributed by parents and their children. The results of a regression of childrens contributions on parents contributions show a coefficient very close to zero both in terms of absolute magnitude and in terms of statistic significance. The result survives to a host of robustness checks..

We did, however, find some systematic patterns that suggest some value-transmission channels. In particular,

  • boys are less cooperative than girls;
  • older children are less cooperative than younger ones; and
  • above all, children from larger families tended to contribute significantly less than children from smaller ones.

This last result, together with the absence of correlation between parents and childrens behaviour appear to be consistent with part of the psychology literature, which emphasizes the importance of peer effects rather than family influences in the socialization process.

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1 Response to What you don’t get from your parents

  1. Greg says:

    Wait, money is called ‘human capital’ these days? I thought people were human capital, so called by corporations desperate for a term that puts what used to be called Personnel, then Human Resources, into the operational structure in a way that suggested some value to the function.

    And then there’s that Dilbert cartoon, where the pointy-haired boss says ‘I like capital, because it sounds like “cattle”‘.

    Anyway, I don’t think we’re getting it from our parents, even if it is money, because those retired old bastards are spending it all on themselves.

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