Just Deserts: An Experimental Study of Distributive Justice Norms

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Scott, John T.; Matland, Richard E.; Michelbach, Philip A.; Bornstein, Brian H.
Psychiatry and Psychology
article description
We present a theoretically Informed experimental study of distributive justice norms concerning income distribution. Our study consists of three related experiments that examine how individuals use four distinct allocation principles derived from both normative and empirical research— equality, merit, need, and efficiency— under a condition of impartiality. Our experiments are designed to investigate these principles and to determine how independent factors influence how individuals use them. We find that individuals tend to use all or most of these principles simultaneously in making distributive justice judgments, but that they weigh them differently according to various factors. In particular, we find an expectedly strong difference between how women and men use and weigh these principles. This gender difference parallels— and may even underlie—the gender gap observed in political and policy preferences.