Fairness and family background

With Ingvild AlmåsAlexander W. Cappelen,  Kjell G. Salvanes and Bertil Tungodden.

Abstract: Fairness preferences fundamentally affect individual behavior and play an important role in shaping social and political institutions. However, people differ both with respect to what they view as fair and with respect to how much weight they attach to fairness considerations. In this paper, we study the role of family background in explaining these heterogeneities in fairness preferences. In particular, we examine how socioeconomic background relates to fairness views and to how people make trade-offs between fairness and self-interest. To study this we conducted an economic experiment with a representative sample of 14-15 year-olds and matched the experimental data to administrative data on parental income and education. The participants made two distributive choices in the experiment. The first choice was to distribute money between themselves and another participant in a situation where there was no difference in merit. The second choice was to distribute money between two other participants with unequal merits. Our main finding is that there is a systematic difference in fairness view between children from low socioceconomic status (SES) families and the rest of the participants; more than 50 percent of the participants from low SES families are egalitarians, whereas only about 20 percent in the rest of the sample hold this fairness view. In contrast, we find no significant difference in the weight attached to fairness between children from different socioeconomic groups.

Available as NHH discussion paper 2015/15.