Wealthier people are more easily offended by unfair offers, study finds

A team of researchers from China and the Netherlands have found evidence that wealthier people feel more entitled to fairness and thus are more likely to reject unfair offers.

Their findings were published July in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

The researchers conducted three experiments using the ulti­matum game, in which one player pro­poses a divi­sion of money that the other player can either accept or reject. The simple task is often used to observe how people respond to unfair monetary offers.

In this case, the player making the ultimatum took 8 yuan and offered the participant only 2 yuan. The three experiments included 988 Chinese participants in total.

The researchers found that participants with higher family incomes were more likely to reject the unfair offer. They also found that artificially inflating a participant’s wealth by giving them a small sum of money made them more likely to reject the unfair offer.

Even when the researchers had participants play a version of the game where they were told they would still receive 2 yuan if they rejected the offer, the wealthy were more likely to reject the unfair offer.

A survey revealed that wealthier participants were more likely to agree with statements such as “I feel entitled to receive better outcomes than others” and this predicted their rejection of the unfair offers. But they were not more likely to agree with statements such as “I feel responsible to enforce fairness norms by rejecting a small amount offered by the Proposer.”

“Taken together, the present research reinforces the possibility that people in a rapidly changing society find it exceptionally easy to justify their relative wealth that even occurs by mere chance,” the researchers concluded. “This readiness to justify income differences, along perhaps with some tendencies among the less fortunate to accept such differences, might help explain why income inequality exists and continues to persist in many societies.”