Many people from different countries and background told me that when they were children it was difficult for them to understand the idea of money and goods distribution. I always thought it is a good proof for my idea that capitalism as such is a very unnatural institution.
The new study from Norway shows some interesting evidence in support of my supposition. As children progress to adolescence, their sense of fairness changes from pure equality to proportionality based on merit, study says.
The study was conducted at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH) by the research team consisting of Associate Professor Ingvild Almås, Professor Alexander W. Cappelen, Associate Professor Erik Ø. Sørensen, and Professor Bertil Tungodden.
One of the most fundamental questions in the social sciences is how morality and fairness considerations affect human behavior. Previous research has shown that adults differ greatly both in the extent to which they care about fairness considerations and in what they perceive as fair.
“This is, however, the first economic study to show how some of these differences are shaped in adolescence. In doing so, the study also sheds light on how our perceptions of fairness are affected both by the social environment and biological factors,” explains Professor Bertil Tungodden from NHH in Norway.
What is a fair inequality?
Most adults find some inequalities fair. Hence, in contrast, to young children, they do not always think of strict equality as the fair solution to a distributive problem. What explains this and how does this acceptance of inequality develop? These were motivating questions for the present study of the distributive behavior of 500 Norwegian school children 11-19 years old.
“By comparing the behavior for different age groups, we were able to established clear developmental patterns. In particular, the study shows that as children grow older, they increasingly find inequalities reflecting differences in individual achievements fair,” continues Professor Tungodden.
In the experiment, the children worked on a task for 45 minutes. At the end of the work session, some were lucky and received a high price on their production; others were unlucky and received a low price. Thus, there were inequalities in earnings that reflected differences in both individual production and luck.
Each participant then had to decide how to distribute the total earnings between themselves and one other participant. Hence, they had to decide which inequalities they found fair.
“Here we observed a very interesting pattern,” adds Professor Tungodden.
“While almost none of the younger children made a distinction between luck and individual production, a substantial share of the older children did so. They accepted inequalities reflecting differences in individual production, but not inequalities reflecting just luck.” (more…)