Adolescents’ Conceptions of National Wealth Distribution: Connections With Perceived Societal Fairness and Academic Plans

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Abstract

This study examined mostly lower-middle–income Latino (37%) and African American (33%) adolescents’ (N = 90, Mage = 15.90) conceptions of how U.S. wealth is and ought to be distributed, and whether these judgments are related to adolescents’ views about societal and legal fairness and their immediate academic plans. Individually administered multipart interviews assessed conceptions regarding (a) actual and ideal U.S. wealth distribution and related “Rawlsian” judgments, (b) social system and legal fairness, and (c) adolescents’ near-term life goals. Overall, adolescents underestimated actual levels of U.S. wealth inequality while also preferring a more egalitarian distribution than was believed to exist. Adolescents’ wealth-related reasoning was mostly unrelated to other societal or personal judgments, whereas societal and legal fairness judgments were related to personal academic plans. Although adolescents had generally negative views of societal and legal fairness, having more positive fairness conceptions was related to a greater emphasis on academic plans. Compared with their younger peers, older adolescents preferred somewhat more wealth inequality for motivational and economic reasons and preferred living in a society with some inequality.

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