Country Mouse vs. City Mouse: Who is More Giving?

Politicians always harp on about “small-town values,” but what do they actually mean?

Personally, when I think about “small-town values,” a sense of community comes to mind – everyone knowing everyone, and with that, a generosity of spirit.

But does that mean city-dwellers aren’t as giving as small-town folk?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about prosocial behavior, including financial giving and volunteering help.

Historically speaking, small-town folk have long been thought to be more helpful from an evolutionary perspective due to kin selection and reciprocity – both direct and indirect – as a result of cooperative behavior.

Today, we’ll take a look at some studies that pit city-folk against country-folk to see if a city-culture is as generous as its small-town counterpart.

Altruistic Opportunities

A study by Korte and Kerr contrasts urban and nonurban environments, intending to test the urban incivility hypothesis, which the study characterizes as:

“interaction between strangers is less civil, helpful, and cooperative in an urban environment than in a nonurban environment.”

The study used a field experiment – 116 field situations, in fact – in Boston and in a number of small towns in Massachusetts, using three dependent measures.

These measures were requests for assistance for:

a) “lost” postcards, b) overpayments to store clerks, and c) a wrong-number phone call.

In each of these cases, those in small towns were more likely to help than in the city of Boston.

So, yes, small-town folk were found to be more helpful in this particular situations…

But does that cross cultures?

Turkish City vs. Small Town

A similar study by Korte and Ayvalioglu was conducted across 456 towns, cities, and urban squatter settlements (also thought of as “urban villages”) in Turkey.

This field experiment also studied helpfulness in three dependent measures:

a) response to a small accident, b) willingness to do an interview, and 3) willingness to give change.

Helpfulness levels were found lowest in cities and of equal measure in towns and squatter settlements.

Do these two studies suggest city dwellers are generally and universally less helpful than those living in small towns?

While we’d need a broader scope, it appears to be trending that way.

And this may be due to the size of the population, resulting in less trust and intimate human connection in the city culture versus small town culture.