Silver Spoons and Scales of Justice

Last registered on July 01, 2024


Trial Information

General Information

Silver Spoons and Scales of Justice
Initial registration date
June 03, 2024

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
June 24, 2024, 12:03 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
July 01, 2024, 2:17 AM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.



Primary Investigator

Huazhong University of Science and Technology

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Intergenerational transfers, including inter vivos transfer or inheritances, are prevalent and unequal. Through a large-scale experimental study, this study investigates the fairness preference of Americans and Chinese towards unequal intergenerational wealth transfers. Participants made real distributive choices affecting two workers whose wealth differed due to merit, luck, or parental wealth transfers.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Lu, Kelin. 2024. "Silver Spoons and Scales of Justice." AEA RCT Registry. July 01.
Experimental Details


In the experiment, participants, referred to as "spectators," decided whether to redistribute income between two individuals, termed "workers." These workers consisted of college students. In addition, one of the student's parents was also recruited to participate in the study. The students engaged in the experiment within a college laboratory without internet access. At the same time, their parents participated concurrently from a separate location. Communication between students and their parents was prohibited to ensure the independence of their actions. We verify the family relationships by asking parents to provide their child's college ID number along with their own official document, which we subsequently verified against the student's enrollment records.

Spectators were randomly assigned to one of 6 treatments: the luck treatment (L), the merit treatment (M), the luck-parent treatment (LP), the merit-parent treatment (MP), the luck-parent-no-choice treatment (LPN), and the merit-parent-no-choice treatment (MP). In the L and M treatments, workers' incomes were determined by a random lottery or by their performance, yielding 0 or 6 points. In the LP treatment, parents' incomes were assigned similarly by lottery, with possible earnings of 0 or 15 points. Parents could forego 6 points so their child could receive 6 points. Thus, in the LP treatment, the final income for workers depended on the transfer decisions made by winning parents, who knew their decisions would remain anonymous to their children. The MP treatment followed the same setup as LP, except that the parent's income was based on their performance in an assignment. In LPN and MPN, parents' income is forced to be transferred without their choice.

Spectators were made aware of the conditions under which the workers and their parents operated. For instance, they knew that workers' incomes would be determined based on predefined payment rules, which remained unknown to the workers before and after the assignment. This setup ensured that, across treatments, workers were perceived identically, except for the rules determining earnings. We employed a contingent response method to assess the spectators' fairness preference, requiring them to make redistribution decisions among the workers for all earning outcomes of paired workers.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Final Income Allocation by Subjects in the role of spectators.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
see intervention
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization through Qualtrics program
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
2,700 subjects for the U.S. and China
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
450 subjects per treatment per country
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Huazhong University of Science and Technology
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number