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Leaving a Legacy: Intergenerational Allocations of Benefits and Burdens

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2015


In six experiments, we investigated the role of resource valence in intergenerational attitudes and allocations. We found that, compared to benefits, allocating burdens intergenerationally increased concern with one’s legacy, heightened ethical concerns, intensified moral emotions (e.g., guilt, shame), and led to feelings of greater responsibility for and affinity with future generations. We argue that, because of greater concern with legacies and the associated moral implications of one’s decisions, allocating burdens leads to greater intergenerational generosity as compared to benefits. Our data provide support for this effect across a range of contexts. Our results also indicate that the differential effect of benefits versus burdens in intergenerational contexts depends on the presence of two important structural characteristics that help enact concerns about legacies, including (1) future impact of decisions, and (2) a self-other tradeoff. Overall, our findings highlight how considering resource valence brings to the fore a number of key psychological characteristics of intergenerational decisions—especially as they relate to legacies and ethics.

Special Issue Behavioral Ethics: A New Empirical Perspective on Business Ethics Research
Copyright © Society for Business Ethics 2010

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