IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Inequality and Fairness: A Networked Experiment


  • Yildirim, Ugur
  • Feehan, Dennis


Why do humans cooperate? Lab experiments have found that cooperation may emerge in part because humans have intrinsically egalitarian motives, meaning that they resist inequality even at some personal cost. But outside the lab, economic inequality is high and on the rise, yet survey data suggest that people do not prioritize policies intended to address inequality. If people are intrinsically egalitarian, why are dramatic increases in inequality not a bigger concern? One possibility is that most people care more about unfairness than inequality per se. Here, we report the results of a networked, online experiment designed to unpack the relationship between fairness and inequality. In our experiment, we create fair and unfair wealth allocations by experimentally manipulating two factors: wealth distribution (i.e., whether starting wealth is equal vs unequal) and wealth source (i.e., the specific mechanism through which wealth (in)equality comes about, earned vs random). Our results show that the source of subjects’ wealth has important effects on their attitudes and behavior: when subjects “earned” their endowments, they perceived their wealth regimes to be more fair, and they were less likely to cooperate. These findings suggest that it can be misleading to study inequality without accounting for subjects’ understanding of how that inequality arose.

Suggested Citation

  • Yildirim, Ugur & Feehan, Dennis, 2020. "Inequality and Fairness: A Networked Experiment," SocArXiv at536, Center for Open Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:osf:socarx:at536
    DOI: 10.31219/

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:osf:socarx:at536. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (OSF). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.