People in the United States judge the success of individuals from higher- versus lower-income families as less deserving

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Abstract

Extant research demonstrates that individuals from higher-income families are more likely to become successful than individuals from lower-income families. This research aims at investigating how deserving people judge the same socioeconomic success when that success is achieved by individuals from higher- versus lower-income families. Building on the literature suggesting that people draw diverse inferences about others based on their socioeconomic status, seven preregistered experiments, conducted among participants from the United States, demonstrate that people deem the same socioeconomic success of an individual as less deserving when that individual comes from a higher- versus lower-income family. This difference in success deservingness judgments occurs because, in accomplishing the same success, people judge individuals from higher- versus lower-income families as less self-reliant, even when success can be attributed to individuals’ own effort. Importantly, this discrepancy in judgments of self-reliance and success deservingness has critical behavioral consequences: people prefer to give less support to individuals from higher- versus lower-income families, even when these individuals have experienced the same economic downturn and have accomplished the same career success. Together, these results extend existing research on the consequences of social class stereotypes for individuals and society, contribute to the philosophical and socio-political discourse about the nature of deservingness, and caution against a potentially biased provision of support based on people’s family background.

Original languageEnglish
Article number255
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

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