Need, Equity, and Accountability – Evidence on Third-Party Distributive Decisions from an Online Experiment


We report the results of a vignette experiment with a quota sample of the German population in which we analyze the interplay between need, equity, and accountability in third-party distributive decisions. We asked subjects to divide firewood between two hypothetical persons who either differ in their need for heat or in their productivity in terms of their ability to chop wood. The experiment systematically varies the persons’ accountability for their neediness as well as for their productivity. We find that subjects distribute significantly fewer logs of wood to persons who are held accountable for their disadvantage. Independently of being held accountable or not, the needier person is always compensated with a share of logs that exceeds her contribution, while the person who contributes less is punished in terms of receiving a share of logs smaller than her need share. Moreover, there is a domain effect in terms of subjects being more sensitive to lower contributions than to greater need.

Author Profiles

Alexander Max Bauer
University of Oldenburg
Mark Siebel
University of Oldenburg


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