What would you do with £1 million if handed it today?
Remarkably, half of young people would give at least a large part of it away, with a quarter saying they would keep none of it for themselves, a new study from Cardiff University has found.
And while some youngsters, perhaps predictably, dream of fast cars, mansions and using the cash to meet celebrities, they are easily outnumbered by those declaring more altruistic intentions.
The academics behind the study, from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD), said the extent of altruism among young people has not been subject to much recent research. This means the findings, part of a major probe into the aspirations of young people in Wales, are novel.
In terms of who would benefit from their generosity, some 8 per cent would give everything to charity, with a further 17 per cent donating all the cash to a combination of family, friends and charity, and another 25 per cent saying they would give a significant proportion of the £1m to charity, family or friends.
The researchers, who will present the findings to the British Educational Research Association (BERA)’s annual conference tomorrow, said the generosity reported by children was much higher and more prevalent than they had expected before conducting the research.
Sally Power, Professor at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, who led the research, said: “We tend to think that children are selfish, and that as you get older, you get less selfish, and more collectively-minded.
“There’s also a lot of media talk about children wanting the latest of everything, being obsessed by consumer goods and by celebrity culture. People fear that we are all becoming more individualist.
“So we did not expect these high levels of altruism. I was particularly surprised by the numbers who said they would not just give some of the money away, but who were going to give it all away.”
In 2013, 1,143 children in year 6 (aged 10 and 11), year 8 (age 12-13) and year 10 (age 14-15) across Wales responded to the question “If someone gave you £1 million today, what would you do with it?”
A total of 25.1 per cent said they would give it all away; a further 24.8 per cent would give some away, and spend or save the rest; 13.9 per cent said they would save all of it; and 36.3 per cent would spend all or most of it.
Girls were revealed as more likely to be altruistic than boys, with 58 per cent of the former categorised as ‘givers’ (saying they would give all or some of the money away), compared to 41 per cent of boys.
The researchers did not find that pupils attending schools in poorer areas were less likely to be altruistic, with no statistically significant difference compared to institutions in better-off districts.
They found that altruism peaked in year 8, with 53 per cent of 12- and 13-year-olds identified as ‘givers’, compared to 50 per cent in year 6 and 47 per cent in year 10.
The researchers acknowledge that the question is purely a “fantasy” and that the reality of how children would behave if truly presented with a seven figure sum might be different.
But Professor Power said that the findings indicated that there was at least a pervasive sense of idealism among children’s background beliefs, with many showing strong feelings of generosity towards strangers and their families.
She added: “What was particularly striking was the extent to which, for significant numbers, they were not going to keep any of the money. This indicates that children may be more altruistic than we think.
“The data indicate quite a strong sense of social justice, and the idea that giving to people in hardship, and alleviating the financial problems of parents, other family members and friends is particularly important to many young people.”
The data should at least provoke researchers and the general public to take seriously the notion that generosity may be more prevalent than is commonly assumed, adds the paper.
The children’s responses give insights into their often highly individual mind-sets. Among the more generous, one said they would “send [money] to Syria because people there are dying”, another would “give it to poor families”, while significant numbers talked about paying off family debts.
Some of the pupils’ wishes to help family members were striking, and moving. One wrote that they would “help my mum have a lung transplant”, while another said they would “spend it all on my granddad who’s got cancer”.
Another sought to combine the worlds of profit-making commerce and charity, writing of a dream to “build a business monopoly so I’ll have more money and then with that make more even more until I have £100 billion and then donate 99 per cent of it to charity”.
Others were more straightforwardly hedonistic, one dreaming they would “buy a mansion [and buy an] amazing car”; another wanting to “become a famous rapper or DJ and live the life going to festivals”; while one respondent said: “I would buy a few horses and the land next to Justin Bieber’s house. On that land I would build a mansion in which me and Justin would live in for the rest of our lives.”
The paper concluded that the diversity of young people’s views was of further interest in itself, with 36 per cent of those surveyed saying they would spend all or most of the £1 million on themselves, while saving the rest.
“While altruistic intentions were surprisingly common, they were by no means universal and we should not ignore the large proportion of children who did intend to spend the £1 million on themselves,” it said.
“What is it that leads some children to be predominantly ‘givers’, some to be ‘savers’ and others to be ‘spenders’? Exploring the social factors which contribute to these different dispositions must mean taking altruism seriously.”
Finally, might it be that the findings reflected Welsh schools’ ability to impress on pupils social justice ideals? Professor Power said this was possible, but that, to an extent the findings ran counter to advice that children might expect to receive in school through, for example, financial education.
She said: “Financial education is mostly about encouraging pupils to defer gratification with their money, and not to be reckless. But many of them [in the survey] would not follow that advice: they would either give the money away or spend it.”
“’If someone gave you £1 million today, what would you do with it?’ Children’s Voices” is being presented at the BERA Annual Conference by Professor Sally Power and Dr Kevin Smith on Thursday 25 September.
WISERD Communications Team
Telephone: 029 2087 0026
BERA press officer
Notes for editors
1. A total of 1,194 children were asked, through a survey they had to complete in writing via a computer tablet, the question ‘If someone gave you £1 million today, what would you do with it?’ All but 51 provided an answer, meaning 1,143 responses were received. 10 replied “don’t know”, and have been excluded from the analysis, while a further 14 responses - including one child who said of the £1 million “burn it” and another “eat it” – were excluded as they were impossible to categorise.
2. The question was part of a much wider survey on Welsh school children’s current concerns and future aspirations. This is part of WISERD Education, a £1million research project following Welsh pupils as they progress through education. See http://www.wiserd.ac.uk/wiserd-education/en/about-project/background
3. All of the children completing questionnaires attend schools in Wales. It was not clear if they might be more generous than their peers elsewhere in the UK, said the research team, as comparable studies had not been carried out in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
4. The Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) was established in 2009 to draw together and build upon the existing expertise in quantitative and qualitative research methods and methodologies at the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea. WISERD undertakes research and capacity building activities that underpin research infrastructure in the economic and social sciences across Wales and beyond.
WISERD has recently received major funding in excess of £7 million to research areas of civil society, including a focus on education. WISERD/Civil Society, will undertake a five year innovative and far-reaching research programme of policy relevant research addressing Civil Society in Wales, the UK and Internationally. www.wiserd.ac.uk
5. The British Educational Research Association (BERA) is a member-led charity which exists to encourage educational research and its application for the improvement of practice and public benefit.
We strive to ensure the best quality evidence from educational research informs policy makers, practitioners and the general public and contributes to economic prosperity, cultural understanding, social cohesion and personal flourishing.
The 40th anniversary annual conference of the British Educational Research Association is being held at the Institute of Education, University of London from Tuesday, September 23rd to Thursday, September 25th. More than 600 research papers will be presented during the course of the conference. The conference programme can be accessed via the BERA website: www.beraconference.co.uk