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Gift exchange: benefits sought by the recipient

Andrew G. Parsons (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
Paul W. Ballantine (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand)
Ann‐Marie Kennedy (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 26 July 2011




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the recipient side of gift exchange by establishing the combination/level of gift benefits preferred by the recipient. It investigates the association between these benefits and the nature of the relationship between the gift giver and recipient.


A total of 250 people were surveyed about a recent gift receipt experience. Levels of symbolic, experiential, and functional benefits sought from the gift were established. Canonical correlation was used to analyse the interrelationships of relational variables (relationship type, strength, and length) and the preferred gift benefits.


People prefer gifts with a greater symbolic meaning (see with lower levels of functional and experiential benefits) from people close to them. People who have not known each other for long, but have a strong emotional connection, prefer gifts that are primarily functional. It shows that benefit associations are significant to gift recipients, the type of relationship the recipient is in has a significant effect on the desired combined level of benefit associations, and the symbolism of meaning for gifts can be expressed through benefit associations.


Studies of gift exchange focus on the gift giver and the benefits gained from the act of giving. The results show that the exchange process used by sociologists and consumer behaviorists to describe and explain gift‐giving activity cannot assume the same levels of benefits associated with the gift occurring on each side of the exchange. It is also shown for the first time that the type of giver, and the relationship the recipient has with the giver, will modify recipient preferences.



Parsons, A.G., Ballantine, P.W. and Kennedy, A. (2011), "Gift exchange: benefits sought by the recipient", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 31 No. 7/8, pp. 411-423.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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