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Millionaires are happy to give - Scientific study on the giving behaviour of millionaires

August 11, 2015

Toronto - Millionaires are more generous than previous research has suggested, according to a study co-authored by the executive director of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management (Rotman ICPM). In the study of more than six hundred Dutch millionaires, the subjects were given one hundred euros to donate, with or without interacting with the recipient. This is the first time the experiment was conducted among real millionaires who actually gave the money away. The results are published this week in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Rob Bauer of Rotman ICPM at the University of Toronto is also a professor at Maastricht University, and wrote the study with Prof. Paul Smeets of Maastricht University, along with Prof. Uri Gneezy of the University of California, San Diego.

Of the one hundred euros the millionaires were allowed to donate to low-income individuals, 71.40 euros was the average amount actually donated, with 45.6% donating the full amount. Meta-analyses of more than one hundred similar studies, which is known as the ‘dictator game’ and is carried out around the world with students and CEOs, revealed a much lower average donation of just 28.40 euros and only 5.4% of participants donating the full amount. This means millionaires tend to donate more than other game participants, which is the opposite of the image most people have of ‘greedy rich people’. The recipient’s income also plays an important role: the experiment included a group of millionaires who could choose to donate their share to another millionaire. The average donation amount for this group was 49.61 euros.

In another experiment, known as the ‘ultimatum game’, recipients with low incomes played an active role: they could choose whether or not to accept the amount offered by the millionaire. This forced the millionaire donor into a negotiation position, which had a significant impact on their giving behaviour. One would expect the donor to make a higher offer out of fear of rejection by the recipient (and to save face); however, this negotiation position actually made the donor less generous. The strategic consideration of the fear of rejection was less important than the behavioural change triggered by the donor being forced into negotiation mode.

According to the researchers, charitable foundations and private bankers can learn some valuable lessons from the study. The experiment revealed that millionaires are far more generous when they are in a giving mode and not confronted with a counteroffer. The lesson for charities is that they should not set a minimum donation amount, while the lesson for private bankers is that they should make a clear distinction between charity and investments when advising their client-investors.

The millionaires who participated in this experiment were clients of ABN AMRO MeesPierson, ABN AMRO’s private bank. The recipients were selected by the independent research agency Flycatcher, from a panel of low-income Dutch citizens.

The study is online at

The mission of the Rotman International Centre for Pension Management (Rotman ICPM) is to be an internationally-recognized, high-impact catalyst for fostering effective pension design and management. Some of the tools used to achieve this goal include the funding of objective and transformative research, the organization of interactive, action-oriented discussion forums, and the delivery of the globe's leading governance education program for Board members of pension and other long-horizon investment institutions. Further details on the Centre are available at


For more information:
Ken McGuffin
Manager, Media Relations
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto
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