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Czech Republic: Education and child‘s cooperation

Education of parents and gaps in co-operative tendencies of their children

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Are social preferences — an important ingredient of cooperation — born or do parents play a role in their formation? Michal Bauer, Julie Chytilová and Barbara Pertold-Gebicka use economic experiments in the Czech Republic to answer this question. While small children behave selfishly, as they grow up they become more prosocial. Important gaps emerge early in life — children from families with low socio-economic status are more selfish, more spiteful and less generous. The findings may be of interest for those who design interventions that target children from disadvantaged environment.

researchers:
Michal Bauer / Charles University and CERGE-EI
Julie Chytilová / Charles University
Barbara Pertold-Gebicka / Charles University

where: Czech Republic
sample size: 275 children, 4-12 years old
when: May-June 2010

project in PDF
original paper

We would like to thank for supporting this project:

Global Development NetworkCzech Science Foundation

Becoming prosocial during childhood

Valuing positively welfare of others facilitates cooperation in groups and thus affects not only our individual success but the welfare of the society more broadly. Research has shown that while being mostly selfish during early childhood, children become more altruistic and inequality averse, and less spiteful as they get older. Answering the question whether disadvantaged background hinders acquisition of cooperative tendencies is potentially important for understanding why inequalities in life outcomes may persist for generations. Thus, the results of the research may be useful for the design of interventions that target children from disadvantaged environment.

There are several potential channels why a low socio-economic status may matter in formation of social preferences. Parental background has been shown to be related to child’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills, and to the composition of peers and teachers and all of these factors may affect formation of social preferences. Moreover, parents spend effort to instill values and preferences into their children and such practices may differ across socio-economic groups.

To give or not to give?

Children aged 4 to 12 years attending kindergartens and lower levels of primary schools in the Czech Republic participated in the experiment. In four tasks they had to choose the number of tokens for themselves and for their anonymous partner. In the Costly Prosocial Game, children had a choice between one token for themselves and one token for a partner or two tokens for themselves and nothing for the partner. The equal allocation is costly for the decision maker as she loses one token. In the Costless Prosocial Game, children choose either one token for themselves and one for their partner, or one token for themselves and nothing for their partner. In the Costly Envy Game, children had a choice between (1,1) or (2,3). If the child dislikes that the partner gets higher payoff, she can reduce it, but has to reduce own payoff as well. Finally, in the Costless Envy Game, children faced a decision between (1,1) or (1,2), where it is costless to choose the equal option.

Gaps arise during childhood

The findings confirmed low tendency to share among pre-school children. Older children became more generous, less selfish and less likely to be weakly spiteful. Importantly, parental background matters. Low parents’ education was found to be associated with a lower intensity of generosity, higher intensity of selfishness and more spite (but only when it is not costly to be spiteful). Further analysis revealed that the effect of parental education does not seem to be mediated by worse health, lower cognitive abilities, lower patience or different characteristics of children’s peers and teachers. The analysis of another dataset (World Values Survey) shows that parents with low education are less likely to consider unselfishness as an important value that children should be encouraged to learn at home. The results suggest that parents with low education are less likely to instill preferences that enhance cooperation into their children. 


Results

  • As children grow up, they become more generous, less selfish and less spiteful.

  • Children from families with low socio-economic status are more selfish, less generous, and more likely to exhibit a weak form of spite.

  • Parents with low education most likely find it less important to instill unselfish behaviors into their children.

Article

Bauer, M., Chytilova, J. & Pertold-Gebicka, B. (2013): Parental Background and Other-Regarding Preferences in Children. Experimental Economics.

Related literature

- Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (2002). The inheritance of inequality. Journal of Economic Perspectives. 

- Dixit, A. (2009). Governance institutions and economic activity. American Economic Review.

- Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. (2002). Why social preferences matter - The impact of non-selfish motives on competition, cooperation and incentives. Economic Journal. 

- Fehr, E., Bernhard, H., Rockenbach, B. (2008). Egalitarianism in young children. Nature. 

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