Maximizing your Halloween candy haul

Freakonomics offers the hidden side to finding the best neighborhood near you to trick-or-treat.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the final quote. The quote has been corrected.

East Coasters hit hard by Sandy may have bigger fish to fry than worrying about where to trick-or-treat tonight. But for the rest of the country, the question remains: How can one best maximize their candy haul? And no, it's not about your costume or your "trick or treat" delivery. It's about the neighborhood you choose. The wealthier the neighborhood, the more substantial the candy pay day, right?

It's not quite that simple, says University of Chicago economist John List, who's done extensive research on a related topic: door-to-door charitable giving.

“I have looked at various giving rates across Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco and also smaller cities like Chicago Heights, which is a district that is a very poor district to the south of Chicago," says List. "But what you find is that within Chicago Heights, they give about eight percent of their income to charitable causes. So my intuition is that one of the best ways to go is to look for a community that is public-spirited and look for the wealthier parts of that community, and then to approach  that community for your candy gifts.”

Yes, he said "candy gifts," but he's an ecomonist, so cut him some slack. The point is, "There are other factors to consider," says "Freakonomics" author Stephen Dubner. He points to Zillow.com's annual "Best Cities to Trick or Treat Index" which factors in neighborhood density, a walkability score, and crime data.

But there's another factor to consider: peer pressure. List points out that giving away candy on Halloween, as small as the stakes may be, resembles the other giving he studies. He says that, while we give in some part simply to be generous, we give in larger part because we want to be seen as being generous.

"What we find is that for every dollar given, roughly 70 cents of that dollar is due to social pressure, and 30 cents is due to altruism," says List.

But for the areas hit by Sandy, the ratio may be different this Halloween. "I do have a feeling that tonight, especially in the parts of the country where Sandy has hit hard, like here in New York, that 70-30 split might be about reversed," Dubner adds. "Because hardship really does bring out the best in us. So I have a feeling that tonight, the generosity, and therefore the Halloween candy, will be flowing."

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