ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (6): 1336-1349.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01336

• Regular Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Are richer people less supportive of redistribution? The relationship between social class and redistribution preference and its psychological mechanism

ZENG Zhaoxie, BAI Jie, GUO Yongyu(), ZHANG Yue, GU Yuting   

  1. School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China
  • Received:2021-01-20 Online:2022-06-15 Published:2022-04-26
  • Contact: GUO Yongyu


Severe economic inequality can damage individuals' physical and mental health at the micro level; at the macro level, it hinders social mobility and threatens social equity and stability. At the current high level of economic inequality, income redistribution policy is an important means of narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor and promoting common prosperity. The formulation and effective implementation of redistribution policies cannot be separated from the support of all social strata, but research evidence from different disciplines shows that the upper class tends to be less supportive of redistribution than the lower class. Based on previous studies, this review proposes a mechanism and intervention model of low redistribution preference among higher social classes. According to the model, economic self-interest and system-justifying beliefs in motivation; the perception of economic inequality; the attribution of the wealth gap; and stereotypes in cognition, compassion, and status anxiety in emotion are the mediating factors that affect the redistribution preference of the upper class. To improve the dilemma of redistribution, three levels must be targeted: at the individual level, humility and compassion should be promoted; at the intergroup level, the focus should be on changing negative stereotypes of disadvantaged groups and the perspective of economic inequality; and at the social level, the focus should be on changing the cultural values of classes. More specifically, (1) improving humility can strengthen the egalitarian tendency of the upper class and weaken support for economic inequality, while reducing the endogenous attribution tendency of the wealth gap. Therefore, improving the humility of the upper class can help improve support for redistribution; (2) counter stereotype intervention can help the higher classes relate to the disadvantaged situation of the lower classes, which, in turn, affects their redistribution bias; (3) the inequality framing effect can, on the one hand, reduce the endogenous attribution tendency of the inequality gap among the upper class, and, on the other hand, increase the support of the upper class for redistribution policy due to the negative influence of inequality framing on the self-esteem of the group; (4) compassion training based on meditation, thinking, and behavioral training can improve redistribution preference by activating the medial orbitofrontal cortex and inferior parietal cortex; and (5) advocating for an equal and just social culture in society as a whole and changing the arrogance that can be found in the cultural value orientation of the higher classes will help to promote their redistribution preference. Several problems in the relationship between class and redistribution bias deserve further discussion. First, the upper classes also exhibit pro-redistribution behavior. Risk aversion, inequality aversion, and altruism may influence this phenomenon. The lower classes may also not support redistribution policies, which may be influenced by subjective identity biases, social mobility expectations, system justification, and welfare stigma. Second, the interaction between motivation, cognition, and emotion must be clarified and investigated. These factors do not always work in isolation but work together through mutual reinforcement and influence. As far as the perception of economic inequality among cognitive factors is concerned, its effects may be influenced by motivational factors. In addition, at the individual and social levels, other factors also deserve attention, such as the sense of psychological entitlement and cultural differences that exist at the social level. Third, the effectiveness of existing intervention strategies should be more comprehensively and rigorously investigated and verified by combining laboratory and field experiments, and horizontal and longitudinal studies. In addition, the differences between different social strata on the principles of fairness preference, the principle of fairness on redistribution towards the applicability problem situation, how to promote an understanding of the negative social consequences of economic inequality to society as a whole, how to change economic inequality as a personal problem, and individualistic discourse problems deserve attention in the future.

Key words: social class, redistribution preference, psychological mechanism, social justice

CLC Number: