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Social Class and Un(ethical) Behavior: A Framework, with Evidence from a Large Population Sample

  • Trautmann, Stefan T.

    (Tilburg University)

  • van de Kuilen, Gijs

    (Tilburg University)

  • Zeckhauser, Richard J.

    (Harvard University)

Differences in ethical behavior between members of the upper and lower classes have been at the center of civic debates in recent years. This paper presents a framework for understanding how class affects ethical standards and behaviors. The framework is applied using data from a large Dutch population sample. The data include objective measures of class, survey responses relating to ethical behavior, and results from an experiment designed to probe ethical choices. Ethical behavior proves to be affected by (i) moral values, (ii) social orientation, and (iii) the costs and benefits of taking various actions. Strong class differences emerge in each of these areas, leading to differences in behavior. Moreover, strong differences among different conceptions of class (wealth, education, etc.) produce additional variation. We argue that the relationship between class and ethical behavior is far from a simple pattern; it is a complex mosaic.

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Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp13-004.

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Date of creation: Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp13-004
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  1. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Bernhard von Rosenbladt & Jürgen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner, . "A Nation-Wide Laboratory: Examining trust and trustworthiness by integrating behavioral experiments into representative surveys," IEW - Working Papers 141, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  2. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
  3. Joseph Henrich & Steve J. Heine & Ara Norenzayan, 2010. "The Weirdest People in the World?," Working Paper Series of the German Council for Social and Economic Data 139, German Council for Social and Economic Data (RatSWD).
  4. Sutter, Matthias & Kocher, Martin G., 2007. "Trust and trustworthiness across different age groups," Munich Reprints in Economics 18182, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  5. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst & Nikolai Roussanov, 2007. "Conspicuous Consumption and Race," NBER Working Papers 13392, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. repec:dgr:kubcen:200457 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Bohnet, Iris & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2004. "Trust, risk and betrayal," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 467-484, December.
  8. Charles Bellemare & Sabine Kroger, 2005. "On Representative Social Capital," Cahiers de recherche 0504, CIRPEE.
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