Children weigh equity and efficiency in making allocation decisions: Evidence from the US, Israel, and China

Shoham Choshen-Hillel*, Zhenni Lin, Alex Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


When children divide resources between others, their decisions generally follow principles of equity (i.e., equal pay for equal work) and efficiency (i.e., maximizing available resources). Yet – just like in the adults’ world – these principles sometimes conflict, for example, when an uneven number of resources must be divided between two equally deserving recipients. Previous research has shown that children will throw resources away to avoid creating inequity between recipients. Yet it is unclear how children arrive at such decisions. One possibility is that they follow a general “equity is good” rule and ignore the violation of efficiency, which would suggest that they would be indifferent to resource value in making such decisions. Alternatively, children may be making a sophisticated tradeoff in which they weigh both equity and efficiency. If this is true, then children's tendency to create equitable allocations should be a function of the waste involved, and thus of the value of the resource. To test between these two accounts, we conducted two experiments where 6- to 8-year-old children (N = 313) had to allocate an uneven number of resources between two other children. Children could choose to either create an inequitable allocation or throw the last resource away. We varied how valuable the resources were, from stickers to iPhones. We found that the more valuable the resource was, the less likely children were to waste and allocate equally. This pattern of results generalized across three countries: the United States, Israel and China. Our findings are the first evidence to suggest that young children make equity-efficiency tradeoffs. We discuss how our findings deepen our understanding of children's resource distribution decisions and their perception of fairness and resource value.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)702-714
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Culture
  • Decision-making
  • Equity
  • Fairness
  • Resource-value


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