Not Taking Responsibility: Equity Trumps Efficiency in Allocation Decisions

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Abstract

When allocating resources, equity and efficiency may conflict. When resources are scarce and cannot be distributed equally, one may choose to destroy resources and reduce societal welfare to maintain equity among its members. We examined whether people are averse to inequitable outcomes per se or to being responsible for deciding how inequity should be implemented. Three scenario-based experiments and one incentivized experiment revealed that participants are inequity responsibility averse: when asked to decide which of the 2 equally deserving individuals should receive a reward, they rather discarded the reward than choosing who will get it. This tendency diminished significantly when participants had the possibility to use a random device to allocate the reward. The finding suggests that it is more difficult to be responsible for the way inequity is implemented than to create inequity per se.

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