Do people like lotteries for allocation?

David Teira of Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Madrid) asks

Sorry if my question is too simple, but I’d be grateful if anyone pointed out the references of empirical studies on our taste for lotteries in the allocation of scarce goods. Are there people who do not like lotteries as allocation mechanisms, independently of whether they are fair or not?

3 Responses

  1. I take this to mean “Does the public like allocation by lottery” To answer this I would direct you to my recent book Lotteries for Education 2010 Imprint Academic

    On P 113: For example: Carnevale, Anthony P & Rose, Stephen J (2003) Socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and college admissions New York, Century
    Following a purpose-built survey they found that “fully 83 percent of the public disagree with the idea that colleges and universities should use a lottery to choose which students are admitted”. Since this is a hypothetical question (no university actually uses a simple lottery for admissions), and with the public’s well-known aversion to random selection (see surveys in Chapter 2) this result is much as might be expected. However the authors interpret this result as an indication of “our cultural bias in favor of individuals over groups and a strong preference for merit-based opportunity”.

    On P51: But then when parents who had heard about lotteries, or who were about to experience them were asked:
    Sutton Trust:. They commissioned Ipsos MORI to gauge the views of the public in the UK on what are the fairest ways of allocating places at over-subscribed schools….
    Generally when asked straight out in a survey: “Should school places be handed out by lottery?” the answer is a resounding ‘No!’ It is only when the use of lotteries is ‘framed’ – given an appropriate setting – that respondents can bring themselves to accept the idea of random selection……

    (from: Sutton Research Trust (May 2007) Ballots in school admissions; from )

    Some deeper probing can be found in

    On P213: Anand, Paul (2001) Procedural fairness in economic and social choice: Evidence from a survey of voters J of Economic Psychology 22 247-270

    (‘Procedural fairness’ has a value; lotteries provide it. There are other papers from the field of experimental economics which show the same thing)

    So I’d say, yes people can get to like lottery allocation, once they have reflected on the alternatives, and even more so when they have been through the experience.


  2. Can anyone tell me quickly what you mean by the term “distribution”

    Thank you


  3. Robin, I think Conall is referring to the distribution of scarce resources on egalitarian lines. This is a (Rawlsian) social justice issue, hence the title of this forum. Political lotteries are an altogether different issue.


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