Egalitarianism and altruism in health: Some evidence of their relationship

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BACKGROUND: Egalitarianism and altruism are two ways in which people may have attitudes that go beyond the narrowly defined selfish preferences. The theoretical constructs of egalitarianism and altruism are different from each other, yet there may be connections between the two. This paper explores the empirical relationship between egalitarianism and altruism, in the context of health.<br /><br />METHODS: We define altruism as individual behaviour that aims to benefit another individual in need; and egalitarianism as a characteristic of a social welfare function, or a meta-level preference. Furthermore, we specify a model that explains the propensity of an individual to be egalitarian in terms of altruism and other background characteristics. Individuals who prefer a hypothetical policy that reduces socioeconomic inequalities in health outcomes over another that does not are regarded 'egalitarian' in the health domain. On the other hand, 'altruism' in the health context is captured by whether or not the same respondents are (or have been) regular blood donors, provided they are medically able to donate. Probit models are specified to estimate the relationship between egalitarianism and altruism, thus defined. A representative sample of the Spanish population was interviewed for the purpose (n = 417 valid cases).<br /><br />RESULTS: Overall, 75% of respondents are found to be egalitarians, whilst 35% are found to be altruists. We find that, once controlled for background characteristics, there is a statistically significant empirical relationship between egalitarianism and altruism in the health context. On average, the probability of an altruist individual supporting egalitarianism is 10% higher than for a non-altruist person. Regarding the other control variables, those living in high per capita income regions have a lower propensity and those who are politically left wing have a higher propensity to be an egalitarian. We do not find evidence of a relationship between egalitarianism and age, socioeconomic status or religious practices.<br /><br />CONCLUSION: Altruist individuals have a higher probability to be egalitarians than would be expected from their observed background characteristics.




Abásolo, I., & Tsuchiya, A. (2014). Egalitarianism and altruism in health: Some evidence of their relationship. International Journal for Equity in Health, 13(1).

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