Forced gifts: The burden of being a friend

Erwin Bulte, Ruixin Wang*, Xiaobo Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In many developing countries, gift expenses escalate with income growth and account for a substantial share of household expenditure. We develop a theoretical model to demonstrate how (unequal) income growth may trigger “gift competition” and drive up the financial burden associated with gift exchange. We use unique census-type panel data from rural China to test our model predictions and demonstrate that (1) the value of gifts responds to the average gift in the community, (2) the escalation of gift giving may have adverse welfare implications (especially for the poor), and (3) escalating gift expenses crowd out expenditures on other consumption items.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-98
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Early online date23 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Gift Competition
  • Inequality
  • Reciprocity
  • Subjective well-being


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