Is In-kind Kinder than Cash? The Impact of Money vs. Food Aid on Social Emotions and Aid Take-up

Over the past decade, there has been a shift in the way charities deliver humanitarian aid. Historically, the most prevalent way to help the global poor was by providing in-kind asset transfers. Recently, alternatives to in-kind aid, such as cash aid, have been increasing in prevalence. Though there has been widespread endorsement from the academic community and the public on this new model of giving cash aid, one perspective remains untouched: the recipient’s perspective. Thus, the present research explores how food-insecure individuals feel when receiving money versus in-kind food aid to help meet their hunger and nutrition needs. Specifically, we explore the degree of positive (e.g., feeling cared for) and negative (e.g., feeling ashamed) social emotions felt when receiving the aid opportunity, and how willing recipients are to accept monetary (vs. food) aid. Results from five pre-registered experiments (N = 3,110)—a field experiment in Kenya and four online experiments in the U.S.—find that monetary (vs. food) aid elicits comparatively more of a market-pricing relationship and less of a communal sharing relationship and, hence, makes people feel less positive and more negative social emotions when receiving the help. Subsequently, recipients are less likely to take-up monetary (vs. food) aid from a charity. However, we find that this effect does not persist when receiving government aid: recipients are similarly willing to accept money and in-kind food aid from the government. This research suggests that future scholarship ought to examine ways to improve psychological experiences when receiving money from charity.