Researchers found that humans want equality—as long as the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor

Researchers found that humans want equality—as long as the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor

Human beings largely object to income inequality and are willing to correct injustice—unless, of course, it rattles their status quo.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study looking at how far people would go to redistribute resources between the haves and have-nots. Participants fiercely objected to “when winners become losers and losers become winners,” researchers note in the paper, published in the latest issue of Nature Human Behaviour.

Researchers initially recruited Indian, American, and Chinese participants take part in an experimental game they called “the redistribution game.” The gist of the game was simple: Participants were given a number of scenarios that would redistribute a fixed sum from a richer person to someone poorer. Participants were told the original standing of wealth was assigned randomly.

In the first scenario, participants had to decide if they wanted to transfer two coins from person A (who already had four coins) to person B (who had one). Researchers note the “transfer would reduce inequality,” (as there’s less of a gap between them), but person B would end up one coin richer than person A, reversing their status.

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In the second version of the game, participants were asked whether they’d transfer one coin to person B (where person A ended up with three coins and person B with two coins). Researchers ran a third and fourth scenario that allowed participants to transfer coins from person A to B, where the outcome still left person A with significantly more coins.

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Researchers found that 77% of participants were willing to redistribute income from rich to poor—so long as it didn’t make person A poorer than person B. Just 45% accepted the redistribution when it changed the hierarchy. The results showed people are both interested in equality and preserving the status quo, but if these two inclinations clashed, most participants would maintain the inequality.

The study then ran the game with an entirely different sample: a group of nomadic Tibetan herders. Researchers were interested to see whether the results would differ when the participants lived apart from modern society. They didn’t: The results showed that the Tibetan participants were actually the most resistant to reversing established hierarchies. Just like the main sample, Tibetan herders were happy to redistribute income, so long as the original hierarchy wasn’t disturbed.

Researchers then simplified the game and recruited children, to better understand when the human aversion to reversing hierarchies develops. The results indicate that children aged 3-4 years old and 5-6 years old showed no motivation to maintain the status quo, but they developed an inclination to remove inequality after the age of 4. Aversion to reversing hierarchies developed between the ages of 6 and 7, and increased more slowly between the ages of 7 and 10.

Researchers could only speculate as to why people are reluctant to upend the status quo. They suggest that it might come down to survival: We may want to maintain hierarchies for fear of sparking anarchy. Researchers note, “Evolutionary theory suggests that groups with stable hierarchies have a fitness advantage.”

The results of the study could help explain why some groups oppose political reforms that reduce income inequality. Researchers point to a 2014 study found that people who earned just above the minimum wage were most likely to oppose increases to minimum wage, for fear they would lose rank in the social pecking order.

These insights also highlight the sheer difficulty of political reform for policymakers. So long as people want to maintain hierarchies, the road to greater equality is an uphill one.

Related article: Will Humanity Survive the Depopulation Agenda of the Global Elite?

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  • comment-avatar
    Charles in VA 10 months

    What we have come to accept as “Christian Charity” is not the responsibility of Government…period. In this study, the researchers have taken on the role of Government, complete with capricious rule changes in the middle of the game.

    Their results say more about what is wrong with Government than it does about the ills of society. Benjamin Franklin once correctly observed that,”The best way to help the poor is to make them uncomfortable in their poverty.” This correlates with the Biblical principle of “those who don’t labor don’t eat”. That should be the position of Government. By usurping that institution of charity, Government has effectively spiritually impoverished vast swaths of society who now view charity as a Government role…effectively relieving them of that responsibility. And wasn’t that really the goal all along?

    There is, indeed, a place in society for Christian Charity. It belongs to each individual as directed by conscience. No pretended “act of kindness” by Government will EVER contribute to the spiritual enrichment of the wealthy, nor the financial wealth of the poor.

    In closing, I’ll leave you with a thought from Adam Smith, the greatest economist ever to grace the Earth and author of The Wealth of Nations…

    “What can be added to the happiness of a man who is in good health, out of debt, and of a clear conscience?”

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