Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 22
I look at the effect of social status on transmission of pro-social behavior. In an artefactual field experiment conducted in northern Colombia I observe contribution to local biodiversity conservation. The design varies whether choice is observable or not and social status of observing/observed individuals. Status is derived from a social ranking exercise identifying formal and moral leaders within the community. I find that leaders have higher valuation of the common good and that their giving is less volatile in the face of exposure to participants contributing lower amounts. Social information on others giving is particularly effective when low status participants are able to observe leaders' choices. I interpret the results as evidence in favor of preference-based altruism and upward social comparison theories. The findings confirm those of laboratory experiments on status in a field setting and with naturally occurring leaders. The study has relevant policy implications in terms of targeting of development programs and questions the commonly held negative view of elites in developing countries.