ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (3): 406-420.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.00406

• Special Issue on “Psychological Characteristics and Behaviors of Chinese People in Response to Crisis and Challenges” • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Equalitarianism and wealth in China: Changes in perceptions of fairness

WANG Junxiu1,2(), LIU Yangyang3   

  1. 1Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing 10073, China
    2School of Psychology, Inner Mongolia Normal University, Huhhot 011517, China
    3School of Marxism, Binzhou University, Binzhou 271000, China
  • Published:2023-03-25 Online:2022-12-22
  • Contact: WANG Junxiu


The eradication of absolute poverty is an important measure of progress in achieving social equality in China, where common prosperity is the main social goal. However, since the founding of modern-day China, it has not only changed from poverty to wealth, but also from addressing imbalances between the rich and poor to an uneven distribution of wealth. The great changes seen over the past century in China have impacted people who have adhered to the idea of equality between the rich and the poor for thousands of years, resulting in a psychological crisis of fairness. A sense of fairness is a subjective response to social equality, which is bound to fluctuate with changes in the distribution of wealth. Therefore, combined with dramatic social changes in recent decades, this paper discusses changes in residents’ sense of fairness and explores the path to resolving this equity crisis.

Based on the data of the Comprehensive Survey of Chinese Society (CGSS) conducted by Renmin University in China and the survey of social conditions conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CSS) from 2006 to 2017, this study examines cross-sectional data spanning ten years. The hierarchical age-period-cohort model (HAPC) is used to analyze trends in changes in Chinese people’s sense of fairness in three-time dimensions: age, period, and birth cohort.

The study found that sense of fairness has a significant time effect in China. (1) The sense of fairness among middle-aged adults was lower than among younger and older adults (Figure 1). (2) The sense of fairness was high in 2008, trended lower from 2010 to 2013, and started to rise again after 2015 (Figure 2). (3) Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the sense of fairness of the birth cohort was low. The sense of fairness of the birth cohort was high in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but it has been lower since the birth cohort of 1953. In the early 1960s, the sense of fairness in the birth cohort rebounded, but after that, it continued to decline. The sense of fairness was the lowest after 1980, but there has been a sharp upward trend since 1990 (Figure 3). (4) There are significant differences in perceptions of fairness between urban and rural areas and level of education.

This study found that although economic growth has been significant, wealth distribution has not been equitable, and that economic growth alone cannot improve social equity. These two variables jointly affect people’s sense of fairness. Under certain conditions, people do not suffer from scarcity but suffer from inequality. Addressing scarcity is the basis for improving the sense of social fairness. If the distribution system is unjust, people’s sense of fairness will be even lower. After eradicating poverty, a wealth distribution system would have obvious benefits for improving the sense of fairness. This conclusion is instructive for the implementation of China’s common prosperity policy.

Key words: sense of fairness, equal distribution of wealth, social change, hierarchical age-period-cohort model