Children's developing understanding of legitimate reasons for allocating resources unequally
© 2015 Elsevier Inc. Recent research on distributive justice suggests that young children prefer equal distributions. But sometimes unequal distributions are justified, such as when some individuals deserve more than others based on merit, need, or agreed-upon rules. When and how do children start incorporating such factors in their distributive decisions? Three-, 5-, and 8-year-old children (N= 72) had the opportunity to allocate several items to two individuals. One individual was neutral and the other provided a reason why she should be favored. Three of these reasons were legitimate (based on merit, need, or agreed-upon rules) whereas a fourth was idiosyncratic ("I just want more."). We found that with age, children's equality preference diminished and their acceptance of various reasons for privileged treatment increased. It was not until 8 years, however, that they differentiated between legitimate and idiosyncratic reasons for inequality. These findings suggest that children's sense of distributive justice develops from an early equality preference to a more flexible understanding of the basic normative reasons that inequality may, in some cases, be just.
Schmidt, MFH; Svetlova, M; Johe, J; Tomasello, M
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