Research / BFI Working PaperFeb 10, 2020

Not Playing Favorites: An Experiment on Parental Fairness Preferences

James Berry, Rebecca Dizon-Ross, Maulik Jagnani

We conduct a lab-in-the-field experiment to identify parents’ preferences for investing in their children. The experiment exogenously varied the short-run returns to educational investments to identify how much parents care about maximizing total household earnings, minimizing cross- sibling inequality in “outcomes” (child-level earnings), and minimizing cross-sibling inequality in “inputs” (child-level investments). We show that while parents place some weight on maximizing earnings, they also display a strong preference for equality in inputs, forgoing roughly 40% of their potential earnings or 90% of a day’s wage to equalize inputs. We find no evidence that parents care about equalizing outcomes.

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