Tuesday, 21 May 2013 23:06

High School Students Learn about the Science of Philanthropy

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Amanda Chuan This past December, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a field experiment with students from Homewood-Flossmoor High School. In the beginning, I had no idea what to expect with these high school students. I remembered the mandatory economics class I endured during high school: our final exam comprised of questions like “What is a credit card?” and “What is a budget?” I had left high school with the impression that economics was a dry, soulless subject, and I was confident that economics was the last thing in the world that would interest me. It took two years of college for me to realize that my high school education had deceived me about what economics actually was. If these kids were anything like me when I was in high school, getting them excited about economics was going to be a daunting task.


Amanda ChuanThe students I met far exceeded expectations. Thanks to a dedicated economics teacher, they already understood economics at an advanced level. More importantly, they were curious about economics and wanted to learn more. They were eager to participate in a research project, and their enthusiasm turned a stressful work project (we had just four hours to run the entire field experiment) into a fun, engaging activity. The field experiment involved having the students go into the Homewood and Flossmoor neighborhoods, knock on doors, and ask for contributions to a local charity. We prepared the experiment materials, randomized our target households into the control or treatment group, and trained the students on how to solicit for donations. While Anya Samek and I had designed the experiment and formulated the research question, it was the students who made the field experiment a success. Because they were familiar with the neighborhoods, and because they had a personal sense of responsibility for the charity involved, they were able to raise four times the amount we had expected to fundraise.


Four months later, I returned to Homewood-Flossmoor High School to present the outcomes of the experiment. Here again, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy and intelligence of the students. They demonstrated college-level understanding regarding both economics and statistics, and it was clear that they genuinely cared about the results of the experiment. Although these students were only in high school, they had already discovered firsthand the aspects of economics I did not appreciate until my second year of college: its unique approach to studying human behavior, its broad applicability across all areas of decision-making, and the tools it provides to help us make sense of the world. Economics is capable of answering a wide range of questions regarding the market for charity, and it is never too early to start exploring these questions. Working with these students made clear that people of all ages, of all abilities, are able to make significant contributions toward furthering our understanding of philanthropic behavior.

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 08:28
Amanda Chuan

Amanda Chuan is the SPI Research Specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests includes Public Economics, Labor Economics, Behavioral Economics and Experimental Economics.

Amanda is a graduate of the University of Chicago and is pursuing a PhD in Applied Economics at Wharton.

Website: spihub.org/members/achuan