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A systematic review and meta-analysis of the relationship between economic inequality and prosocial behaviour

Abstract

How does economic inequality relate to prosocial behaviour? Existing theories and empirical studies from multiple disciplines have produced mixed results. Here we conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to systematically synthesize empirical studies. Results from 192 effect sizes and over 2.5 million observations in 100 studies show that the relationship varies from being negative to positive depending upon the study (95% prediction interval −0.450 to 0.343). However, on average, there is a small, negative relationship between economic inequality and prosocial behaviour (r = −0.064, P = 0.004, 95% confidence interval −0.106 to −0.021). There is generally no evidence that results depend upon characteristics of the studies, participants, the way prosocial behaviour and inequality were assessed, and the publication discipline. Given the prevalence of economic inequality and the importance of prosocial behaviour, this systematic review and meta-analysis provides a timely study on the relationship between economic inequality and prosocial behaviour.

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Data availability

This meta-analysis was pre-registered on the Open Science Framework. The raw and processed data are publicly available on the Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/e3fzb/?view_only=8f4d58a84b694bba98b6173b879381d8).

Code availability

The code (written in R) used to analyse the relevant data is provided on the Open Science Framework website (https://osf.io/e3fzb/?view_only=8f4d58a84b694bba98b6173b879381d8). All materials needed to reproduce the analyses are available at this link. Note that the analysis was first transformed into Fisher’s z, then converted back to Pearson’s r, for ease of interpretation.

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Acknowledgements

Portions of this manuscript are based on the first author’s PhD dissertation. The first author was supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, and the Research Funds of Renmin University of China (no. 23XNF005). The second author was supported by AmeriCorps (formerly, the Corporation for National and Community Service), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Notre Dame Institute of Advanced Study, and the Mind & Life Institute. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Y.Y. conceptualized the research questions, screened the literature, extracted the data, conducted data analysis and wrote the first draft of the paper. S.K. conceptualized the research questions, screened the literature, checked the data extraction, assisted with literature review, did reliability coding and revised the paper.

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Correspondence to Yongzheng Yang.

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Characteristics of included studies and assessments of risk of bias for each included study.

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Yang, Y., Konrath, S. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the relationship between economic inequality and prosocial behaviour. Nat Hum Behav 7, 1899–1916 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-023-01681-y

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