Does Inequality Beget Inequality? Experimental Tests of the Prediction that Inequality Increases System Justification Motivation


Past research shows that growing inequality often does not result in citizen demands for redistribution. We examine one mechanism that could explain why people do not protest growing inequality: a particular sub-prediction of system justification theory (SJT). SJT argues that humans have a psychological need to justify their social system. The specific sub-prediction of SJT tested here is the idea that inequality itself increases system justification. This could yield a negative feedback loop in which political responses to inequality grows ever less likely as inequality grows more extreme. Previous research on this hypothesis relied on cross-sectional survey data and provided mixed results. We take an experimental approach and ask whether exposure to economic inequality makes people more likely to defend the system. In one main study and two replications with varying samples, experimental treatments, and outcome measures, we find no evidence that information about economic inequality increases system justification motivation.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Political Science