Goals contribute significantly to the meaning of event and outcome. The attainments of important life goals, such as higher education and employment, are the source of individual well-beings, as well as an effective way to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Motivation is one of the most widely studied factors that affect goal attainment. However, according to a series of latest studies, relative to upper-class individuals, lower-class individuals’ goal commitment is more easily affected by societal fairness. Based on the aforementioned studies, the present research intended to explore the effect and mechanism of societal fairness on goal attainment of people from different social classes and hypothesized that goal attainment is affected by (a) the perceived societal fairness, (b) social class, and (c) the interaction between perceived societal fairness and social class. Moreover, we also expected that the interaction effect between perceived societal fairness and social class on goal attainment is mediated by goal commitment.
We conducted 3 studies to test our hypothesis. The first two studies are the naturalistic design. In Study 1, we measured participants' perceived of social justice, subjective social class, objective social class, and goal commitment and attainment toward educational investment. In Study 2, we randomly assigned participants to two different priming conditions (fairness vs. unfairness), and then measured their subjective social class, objective social class, academic goal commitment, and academic goal attainment. In Study 3, we brought our research question into the lab. This study involves a 2 (fairness: fairness vs. unfairness) × 2(social class: higher-class vs. lower-class) between-subject design. Participants in study 3 completed both fairness and social class manipulation.
In Study 1, respondents reported higher motivation to invest more educational resource to their child to the extent that they believed that educational rewards were distributed fairly; this effect was stronger for members of lower-class than for members of higher-class. In Study 2, the lower-class participants had higher academic goal commitment and higher academic goal attainment when they were under fair priming condition. However, it did not apply for higher-class participants. In Study 3, the interaction between fairness and social class significantly affected goal commitment, and goal commitment positively affected goal achievement. Moreover, fairness positively related to goal commitment for lower-class members, but not for higher-class members. Taken together, these studies support the hypothesis that social fairness can affect goal attainment through goal commitment and that this connection is significant among participants low in social class but non-significant among participants high in social class.
The findings of present research suggests that the low class members’ goal commitment and attainment were more susceptible to societal fairness, which is consistent with the ideas of social class psychology who claims that low social class members are situation-oriented and more sensitive to context factors, but those with high social position could freely set their goals and not be limited by the environment. To some degree, our research has provided support for the idea of social class psychology.