Altruism born of suffering? The impact of an adverse health shock on pro-social behaviour: altruism born of suffering

Nicole Black, Elaine Mulan de Gruyter, Dennis Petrie, Sarah Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


‘Altruism born of suffering’ (ABS) predicts that, following an adverse life event such as a health shock, individuals may become motivated to help others and act pro-socially. How- ever, despite anecdotal support this has not been examined systematically. Using data from the United States Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we find that an adverse health shock does not lead to a general increase in pro-social behaviour; it neither causes people to start giving, nor does it spark an increase in donations across charitable causes. Instead, ABS is akin to a specific shock that affects giving to health charities. We find a significant increase in the probability of giving to health charities, with no change for other charity types. Accompanying this is an increase in amounts given to health charities, which comes at the expense of non-health, non-religious charities. The impact is greatest in the year after the health shock, attenuating thereafter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-915
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Altruism born of suffering
  • Charitable giving
  • Pro-social behaviour
  • Health shock
  • Warm glow

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