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Who Is the Identifiable Victim? Caste and Charitable Giving in Modern India

Research, Social Hierarchy1 min read

Authors: Ashwini Deshpande, Dean Spears

Published in: Economic Development and Cultural Change

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Earlier studies have documented an “identifiable victim effect”: people donate more to help individual people than to groups. Evidence suggests that this is in part due to an emotional reaction to the identified recipients, who generate more sympathy. However, stereotype research has shown that low-ranking groups are often not seen sympathetically; indeed stigmatized groups can be targets of “dehumanized” perception, perceived with disgust.

We conducted an internet survey experiment among Indian participants, crossing the identification treatment with the group membership of the recipient. We indicate group membership of identified recipients subtly, with names that connote a social rank.

We found an identifiable recipient effect for generically Indian, high caste, and Muslim recipients, but the effect was reversed for low caste recipients. Participants were as willing to donate to statistical low caste recipients as to statistical high caste recipients, but were less willing to donate to identified low caste recipients.

However, an identifiable victim effect was seen for all recipient groups among participants open to a love marriage, a coarse indicator of rejecting caste hierarchy in favor of shared humanity. To our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating that the identifiable victim effect interacts with the identity of the victim.


r.i.c.e. is a nonprofit research organization, dedicated to understanding the lives of poor people, especially young children, in India, and to promoting their well-being.

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