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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Discrimination against the rich Chae, Bo Youn


Do people punish rich individuals more harshly than middle class individuals? In this dissertation, I investigate whether and how people discriminate against the rich in terms of the punishment of everyday offenses. I propose that people punish a small-time offender more severely when the offender is perceived to be wealthy rather than non-wealthy. Given that people hold a higher behavioral standard for the wealthy, a wealthy (vs. non-wealthy) individual violates a rule, people perceive a greater degree of a fall from the behavioral standard and administer a more severe punishment to the offender. A set of six empirical studies substantiates the proposed discrimination-against-the-rich effect and validates the underlying mechanism. Furthermore, the findings show that people do not discriminate against the rich when no rule violation is observed. The findings also indicate a secondary effect whereby observing the delivery of punishment to a wealthy (vs. non-wealthy) offender increases the observer’s fairness perception. Finally, the generalizability of the discrimination-against-the-rich effect is tested, and the results show that the effect is moderated by the observer’s income level.

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