The rich get richer, the poor get even: Perceived socio-economic position influences micro-social distributions of wealth

Boyka Bratanova, Stephen Loughnan, Klein Olivier, Robert Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Economic inequality has a robust negative effect on a range of important societal outcomes, including health, wellbeing, and education. Yet, it remains insufficiently understood why, how, and by whom unequal systems tend to be perpetuated. In two studies we examine whether psychological mindsets adopted by the wealthy and the poor in their micro-social transactions act to perpetuate or challenge inequality. We hypothesized that occupying a wealthier socio-economic position promotes the pursuit of self-interest and contributes to inequality maintenance; poorer socio-economic position, on the other hand, should promote the pursuit of fairness and equality restoration. In Study 1, participants completed an Ultimatum Game as proposers after being primed to believe they are wealthier or poorer, offering money to either poor or wealthy responders. As expected, the wealthy pursued their self-interest and the net effect of this behavior contributes to the maintenance of inequality. Conversely, the poor pursued fairness and the net effect of this behavior challenges inequality. In Study 2, participants were responders deciding whether to accept or reject unfair distributions. Compared to the wealthier, the poorer challenged inequality by rejecting unequal offers. The links between micro-social processes and macro-societal inequality are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243–249
JournalScandinavian journal of psychology
Volume57
Issue number3
Early online date22 Mar 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016

Keywords

  • inequality
  • ultimatum game
  • intergroup relations
  • class

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