Case Studies

Reducing Inequality

Question: For decades, the US has experienced a staggering growth in wealth inequality, and a large portion of Americans wish there were a lower amount of inequality. What can be done to motivate people to take actual action pursuing a preferable wealth distribution?

Hypothesis: We predicted that asking people to think about gifts they would like to leave to future generations would elicit a sense of responsibility to posterity, and so motivate support for action favoring more fair wealth distribution (such as a donation to an organization working to reduce inequality).

Experiment: We split participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk into two groups, the reinforcement group and the control group. In the first stage, participants in the posterity group were asked to think about five qualities, skills, or gifts that they hoped future generations would remember them for and how they will have a positive impact on other people. Next, participants in both groups read a paragraph describing a non-governmental organization whose aim is to reduce wealth inequality and advance economic and social fairness. After reading the description, participants were asked to imagine what percentage of their day’s wage they would be willing to donate from 0% to 100% if given the opportunity.

Results: We found that those in the reinforcement condition indicated willingness to donate a higher percentage of their wage if given the opportunity to do so than those in the control condition.

inequality

Application: The findings of this study suggest that thinking about the future and reversing the present bias may increase motivation to make sacrifices to move towards a more fair wealth distribution. Since other research has shown most Americans believe we currently have too much wealth inequality, this may be a promising finding. Further research in this area could explore how strong this effect truly is.