Working Paper

Developmental Meritocracy


A sample of 2,883 children and teenagers aged 5 to 18 in the United States and Spain participate in a third party dictator game where they can influence the rewards of the winner and the loser of a competition. We explore three methods for determining the competition’s winner (talent, effort, and luck) and two methods to allocate rewards (redistribution from winner to loser and addition to winner and loser). Participants are reluctant to transfer rewards from the winner to the loser, resulting in more meritocratic allocations in the redistribution scenario across all age groups. In contrast, the addition scenario exhibits strong age-related effects, with ex-post fairness peaking during middle school and then declining. These trends are consistent across populations and across socioeconomic backgrounds. Merit-based allocations are more frequent when participants compete in a task that requires talent. Allocation decisions are influenced by experience, which reduces the gap between redistribution and addition. They are also affected by perceived performance, personality traits, and affective processes.

Keywords: Developmental decision-making, Field Experiment, Inequality, Third party dictator