Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Discussion Paper Series in Economics,
Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics

No 21/2023: Unleveling the Playing Field? Experimental Evidence on Parents’ Willingness to Give Their Child an Advantage

Oda Kristine Storstad Sund ()
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Oda Kristine Storstad Sund: Dept. of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Postal: NHH, Department of Economics, Helleveien 30, N-5045 Bergen, Norway

Abstract: Parents play a pivotal role in shaping the opportunities and outcomes of their children. This paper provides unique evidence on parents’ willingness to give their child an advantage. I report from a large-scale lab-in-the-field experiment with 921 pairs of parents and their adolescent children, which is linked to high quality administrative data. In a situation with equal opportunities, parents are given the opportunity to increase the likelihood of their child winning in a competition. I find that a significant share of parents prioritizes their own child’s success at the expense of another child’s opportunity to succeed. A considerable share of parents helps their own child because they believe that the other parent also does so, in which case helping ensures a level playing field. However, I also find evidence suggestive of parents holding self-serving beliefs about the helping decision of other parents, which they use to justify helping their own child. Finally, I provide evidence of the helping decision in the experimental situation being strongly associated with children doing particularly well at school in situations where parents can directly influence their grade. Taken together, the paper provides the first set of systematic evidence on parents’ willingness to give their own children an advantage, and the findings provide new insights on parents’ role in human capital accumulation.

Keywords: Behavior; Fairness; preferences; inequality; experiment; beliefs; meritocracy; selfserving; beliefs; cognitive dissonance

JEL-codes: C91; C93; D01; D63; I24

Language: English

63 pages, December 5, 2023

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