Case Studies

Reducing Inequality

For decades, the US has experienced staggering growth in wealth inequality, and a large portion of Americans wish there were less inequality. What can be done to motivate people to take action pursuing a more 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 thus motivate support for an 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 the control condition and the treatment condition. In the first stage, participants in the treatment condition 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 conditions 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 treatment condition indicated willingness to donate a higher percentage of their wage if given the opportunity to do so than those in the control condition.


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