Reminders of Money Make Adolescents Less Charitable, Baylor University Study Finds

December 10, 2012
James Roberts, Ph.D.

James Roberts, Ph. D.

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WACO, Texas (Dec. 10 2012) - Reminders of money play an important role in charitable giving and attitudes toward giving even among adolescents, according to a Baylor University study.

Published in the journal Young Consumers, Insight and Ideas for Responsible Marketers, the study found that when adolescents are reminded of money, they donate less money to charity and hold less favorable attitudes toward charitable giving in general. Study findings also indicated that adolescent girls are willing to donate more to charity than boys and have better attitudes toward charitable giving.

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"Giving plays a critical role in the U.S. economy," said study author James Roberts, Ph.D., professor of marketing and the Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. "Despite the bad economy, Americans gave $290.89 billion to their favorite causes in 2010."

"Charitable giving of our time and money also engenders a sense of community," he said. "We feel that 'warm glow' when we give, and giving brings us closer to others. It is clear from the present research that money tends to interfere with our willingness to help others and very likely undermines our well-being in the process."

VIDEO: James A. Roberts, Ph.D., discusses the effect money has on behavior.

The study, which grew out of an eighth grade science project by Roberts' daughter, Camille, included 114 seventh and eighth grade science students (48 boys and 66 girls) ranging in age from 12 to14 with an average age of 13. Written parental consent was required before students were allowed to participate, and the study was approved by Baylor's human subjects committee prior to its administration.

Students were randomly assigned to one of two experimental questionnaires; they read a short scenario and answered nine questions. The study took approximately five minutes to complete. Each questionnaire began with a brief description of a fictional food pantry called Bountiful Harvest Food Pantry. The students were asked how much they would donate to Bountiful Harvest if they had $10, followed by five questions that comprised the students' attitude toward charitable giving.

The only difference between the two questionnaires was a large picture of a $100 bill at the bottom of the first page of the treatment group questionnaire to make money more prominent for the treatment subjects. The questionnaire for the control group was the same as the first, but instead of a picture of money, there was a picture of a Thanksgiving cornucopia.

In the study, those who were exposed to the money cue indicated they would give an average donation of $5.87 while the control group, which was exposed to the cornucopia, said they would donate an average of $6.81. Girls were more generous donating an average of $6.76 compared to boys, who donated an average of $5.78.

"Less concern for others has obvious ramifications for our giving to others," Roberts said. "When we show or feel less concern for others, we tend to place a greater physical and emotional distance between ourselves and our fellow man. The most obvious casualty is that we give less money to charity when we care less for others. Given the important role charity plays in enhancing the overall well-being of a society, a decrease in charitable giving can have devastating effects."

This study takes on a particular importance given that lawmakers in Washington are currently considering ending, or significantly altering, tax deductions for charitable donations.

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit and follow on Twitter at