Shallow meritocracy

  • Meritocracies aspire to reward hard work and promise not to judge individuals by the circumstances into which they were born. However, circumstances often shape the choice to work hard. I show that people's merit judgments are "shallow" and insensitive to this effect. They hold others responsible for their choices, even if these choices have been shaped by unequal circumstances. In an experiment, US participants judge how much money workers deserve for the effort they exert. Unequal circumstances disadvantage some workers and discourage them from working hard. Nonetheless, participants reward the effort of disadvantaged and advantaged workers identically, regardless of the circumstances under which choices are made. For some participants, this reflects their fundamental view regarding fair rewards. For others, the neglect results from the uncertain counterfactual. They understand that circumstances shape choices but do not correct for this because the counterfactual—what would have happened under equal circumstances—remains uncertain.

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Author: Andre, PeterORCiDGND
Series (Serial Number):SAFE working paper (405)
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Document Type:Working Paper
Year of Completion:2023
Year of first Publication:2023
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2023/11/07
Tag:Meritocracy; attitudes towards inequality; counterfactual thinking; fairness; inference; redistribution; responsibility; social preferences; uncertainty
Edition:October 26, 2023
Page Number:77
I gratefully acknowledge research support from the Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE. Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy – EXC 2126/1– 390838866. Funding by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) through CRC TR 224 (Project A01) is gratefully acknowledged. Supported by the Reinhard-Selten Scholarship (German Association for Experimental Economic Research). Supported by the Joachim Herz Foundation.
Institutes:Wirtschaftswissenschaften / Wirtschaftswissenschaften
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / House of Finance (HoF)
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / Center for Financial Studies (CFS)
Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe (SAFE)
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 33 Wirtschaft / 330 Wirtschaft
JEL-Classification:C Mathematical and Quantitative Methods / C9 Design of Experiments / C91 Laboratory, Individual Behavior
D Microeconomics / D6 Welfare Economics / D63 Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
D Microeconomics / D9 Intertemporal Choice and Growth / D91 Intertemporal Consumer Choice; Life Cycle Models and Saving
H Public Economics / H2 Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue / H23 Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht