Children’s evaluations of individually and structurally based inequalities: The role of status

Michael T. Rizzo, Melanie Killen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social inequalities limit important opportunities and resources for members of marginalized and disadvantaged groups. Understanding the origins of how children construct their understanding of social inequalities in the context of their everyday peer interactions has the potential to yield novel insights into when—and how—individuals respond to different types of social inequalities. The present study examined whether children (N = 176; 3- to 8-years-old; 52% female, 48% male; 70% European American, 16% African American, 10% Latinx, and 4% Asian American; middle-income backgrounds) differentiate between structurally based inequalities (e.g., based on gender) and individually based inequalities (e.g., based on merit). Children were randomly assigned to a group that received more (advantaged) or fewer (disadvantaged) resources than another group due to either their groups’ meritorious performance on a task or the gender biases of the peer in charge of allocating resources. Overall, children evaluated structurally based inequalities to be more unfair and worthy of rectification than individually based inequalities, and disadvantaged children were more likely to view inequalities to be wrong and act to rectify them compared to advantaged children. With age, advantaged children became more likely to rectify the inequalities and judge perpetuating allocations to be unfair. Yet, the majority of children allocated equally in response to both types of inequality. The findings generated novel evidence regarding how children evaluate and respond to individually and structurally based inequalities, and how children’s own status within the inequality informs these responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDevelopmental psychology
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • fairness
  • moral development
  • resource allocation
  • structural inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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