Looking up or down on the social ladder: how socioeconomic comparisons shape judgments about monetary and time donations

Rafael Demczuk*, Danielle Mantovani, Daniel Fernandes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



The increasing inequality rate within countries worldwide makes social comparisons more evident. In seven experiments, we demonstrate that people comparing themselves to others in a superior socioeconomic position (upward comparison) judge that wealthier others should donate more time and money to charity. However, social comparison to others in an inferior position (downward comparison) does not always increase monetary donations. This discrepancy in prescriptions for monetary donations between those who make upward and downward social comparisons is driven by judgments about relative spare money; while people making upward comparisons believe that others have more spare money, people making downward comparisons only think they have more spare money, and should donate more, when reminded of their hierarchical position at the time of judgment. Low meritocracy beliefs exacerbate the difference between the prescriptions of how much oneself and others should donate given their socioeconomic position. This differential pattern among individuals making upward and downward social comparisons helps to propagate economic inequality. People making upward comparisons prescribe to wealthier others the responsibility to donate to charity, who in turn may not think they should donate more money. These findings have implications for charitable and non-profit organizations and contribute to research on social comparison, inequality, and judgments about monetary and time donations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2308
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Charitable giving
  • Meritocratic beliefs
  • Monetary donation
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Self-other evaluative perspective
  • Social comparison
  • Spare resources
  • Time donation


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