Writing for general audiences, popular summaries of research

Journalism and outreach

Charitable giving and altruism


How to win the marathon (Society Central, 2013; charitable  fundraising tips)

Tips for Men’s Health Marathon Runners on Fundraising December 10, 2012

Addressing popular questions (‘FAQ’) about charitable giving  (2015, continually updated)

Evidence on giving from more or less tangible income


Other topics

Should you hedge your bets on a Brexit?

Should we help companies tailor prices to your wage packet? (The Conversation, 2015)

Let Them Eat OpportunityCards: a new policy tool that may reduce inequality  September z 2015

The benefit of the ‘hidden parliamentary expenses’ August 1, 2010


David Reinstein: plain-language abstracts

“Losing Face” with Thomas Gall (Oxford Economics Papers, 2019) (Working Paper version with additional discussion)

Rejection hurts, and there is a particular sting in letting another person know you are interested, only to be turned down. The desire to avoid this pain and possible loss of reputation makes people reluctant to express their interest in others. Thus, in the areas of romance, business, friendship, and international negotiation, we may avoid making overtures to potential partners even in cases where, as it turns out, the other party feels the same way. In this paper we consider a solution to this problem which we call a “Conditionally Anonymous Environment” (CAE): A third-party intermediary, man or machine, that only reveals when both parties say ‘yes’. (Tinder is the most prominent example). As our game theoretic modeling shows, this can lead to more matches between individuals without either party having to suffer a rejection. In particular, it can reduce ‘reverse snobbery’ — where those “low types” who believe they are less desirable reject those they think are “high types” for fear of being rejected. (However, under some conditions the CAE may lead to negative effects: as low types reject less, high types may reject more, leading to less partnering overall.)


Does One Contribution Come at the Expense of Another? Empirical Evidence on Substitution between Charitable Donations The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Vol. 11:  Iss. 1 (Advances), Article 40.

 The large number of charities throughout the world provide some insight into the altruism of the human race. With such a large variety of available charities individuals will naturally have to choose which cause to donate to. In this paper I seek to measure to what extent choosing to donate to one charity will affect donations to existing unrelated charities. My statistical analysis of a large US dataset finds some substitutability between causes, particularly for larger donors. This provides some of the first reliable evidence that charities are indeed “in competition” with one another.


“Substitution Among Charitable Contributions: An Experimental Study” 

With the large number of worthy causes appealing for our funds, it is impossible to donate to them all. But when a particular convincing fundraiser talks us into donating to one cause, does this lead us to give less to others? Are we merely “robbing Peter to pay Paul”?  In this paper I investigate this using a lab-based experiment designed to determine the extent to which an individual substitutes amongst charities. I give participants real money that they can either donate to a variety of charities, or keep for themselves.  I find strong evidence that when people are presented with a larger selection of charities they donate less to each one, but more in total. I also find that when I introduce promotions and “shocks” that boost giving to particular charities, people donate less to the remaining charities, particularly when these charities serve similar purposes. This experiment provides some of the first evidence suggesting that charities are indeed in competition for donations, although this may not be a “zero sum” game.


“Decomposing Desert and Tangibility Effects in a Charitable Giving Experiment” with Gerhard Riener (Mannheim/Dusseldorf). Experimental Economics.

Charities and nonprofit organisations are continually looking for ways to increase the funding they receive from donations. In this paper we investigate whether the form of money used has any effect on the individual’s willingness to donate.  From our results we suggest that people are less generous with more tangible forms of money such as cash. This leads us to suggest that charities should seek to raise funds from less tangible means such as direct debit rather than soliciting cash donations.


“Efficient Consumer Altruism and Fair Trade” with Joon Song [SKKU]. Journal of Economics and Management Strategy.           

In recent years there has been a surge in popularity of Fair Trade products as conscientious consumers have become more willing to pay higher prices to retailers who treat their producers and suppliers well. This has lead to a variety of research into Fair Trade products with arguments both supporting and disagreeing with Fair Trade.  In this paper I consider the purchase of Fair Trade products to include both the product and a charitable donation. We make a case that “bundling” these can be efficient, implying that   it may be less expensive to buy a Fair Trade products then to purchase an equivalent a non-Fair Trade product and make a separate donation.  This occurs because when the farmer is given a higher income, he can be induced to put more effort into producing the product. Our preliminary work using data from Amazon.com supports this view, finding that fair trade coffees are no more expensive.


 “Anonymous Rituals” with David Hugh-Jones (Univ. of East Anglia). Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Have you ever been at a restaurant with a group of friends where you each offer to pay the amount you feel you owe? In such a case some members of the party may attempt to free ride off the others. This leads us to the question, how much can we trust our friends? In this paper we attempt to answer this question by providing a system that allows members of a party to learn each others willingness to pay. This allows ‘free riders’ to reveal this fact without any form of independent social stigma. This will lead to a greater level of cooperation amongst individuals, as people better understand how much they can trust those around them.


“The Benefit of Anonymity in Public Goods Games” with David Hugh-Jones

When a group of people are donating towards a cause the fear of sanctions from society may cause low contributors to donate more. Recent research seems to support this view and shows that publicizing contributions increases contribution rates. However, many social institutions allow and encourage anonymous contributions. We seek to explain this discrepancy using economic theory and a lab-based experiment. This experiment suggests that allowing anonymous contributions early on does a better job of revealing the presence of the more self-interested members of a group. This improved knowledge leads to higher average contributions in a later, more important stage.


“Reputation and Influence in Charitable Giving: An Experiment” with Gerhard Riener (University of Jena). Theory and Decision.

Existing work has shown that people tend to act more generously in public settings. We consider two major reasons why an individual might donate more when her actions are observed for two main reasons. She may be attempting to improve her own reputation for being altruistic or she may be trying to influence others to donate more to the cause that she in fact cares about. In this paper we run a series of experiments in an attempt to calculate the importance of each of these two effects, as well as measuring the influence that “lead donors” actually have on those who observe them. We find evidence that people try to influence others, and actually influence others’ donations, but only when the leader and followers meet face-to-face. We also conclude that females are more influential than males in leading others to donate.




One thought on “Writing for general audiences, popular summaries of research

  1. Pingback: My attempt to translate from academic economics into popular English « David Reinstein

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