Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 341–372 | Cite as

Judgments regarding the fair division of goods: the impact of verbal versus quantitative descriptions of alternative divisions

  • Jeremiah Hurley
  • Neil J. Buckley
  • Katherine Cuff
  • Mita Giacomini
  • David Cameron
Original Paper


This article uses a stated-preference survey to investigate the impact on judgments regarding the fair division of a fixed supply of a good of differing types of information by which to describe five distributional principles. The three types of information are quantitative information only (the predominant approach in existing studies), verbal information only, and both quantitative and verbal information. The five distributional principles are equal division among recipients, Rawlsian maximin, total benefit maximization (TBM), equal benefit (EB) for recipients, and allocation according to relative need (RN) among recipients. We find important informational effects on judgments of the fair division of each of two health-related goods (pain-relief pills and apples consumed to obtain an essential vitamin): judgments based on quantitative information only are consistent with previous research; changing to verbal descriptions causes a notable shift in support among principles, and in particular greater support for the principle of TBM; judgments based on both quantitative and verbal information match more closely those made with only quantitative information. The pattern of judgments is consistent with the hypothesis that subjects do not fully understand the relationship between the conceptual meaning of the principles (as described verbally) and their implied quantitative divisions. We also find evidence of modest differential judgments across goods (pills vs. apples), sample effects (university vs. community), and sex effects, and little support for a non-zero allocation principle.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremiah Hurley
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Neil J. Buckley
    • 4
  • Katherine Cuff
    • 1
  • Mita Giacomini
    • 2
    • 3
  • David Cameron
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Health Economics and Policy AnalysisMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Department of Clinical Epidemiology and BiostatisticsMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.Department of EconomicsYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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