Children's recognition of fairness and others' welfare in a resource allocation task: Age related changes

Michael T. Rizzo, Laura Elenbaas, Shelby Cooley, Melanie Killen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study investigated age-related changes regarding children's (N = 136) conceptions of fairness and others' welfare in a merit-based resource allocation paradigm. To test whether children at 3- to 5-years-old and 6- to 8-years-old took others' welfare into account when dividing resources, in addition to merit and equality concerns, children were asked to allocate, judge, and reason about allocations of necessary (needed to avoid harm) and luxury (enjoyable to have) resources to a hardworking and a lazy character. While 3- to 5-year-olds did not differentiate between distributing luxury and necessary resources, 6- to 8-year-olds allocated luxury resources more meritoriously than necessary resources. Further, children based their allocations of necessary resources on concerns for others' welfare, rather than merit, even when one character was described as working harder. The findings revealed that, with age, children incorporated the concerns for others' welfare and merit into their conceptions of fairness in a resource allocation context, and prioritized these concerns differently depending on whether they were allocating luxury or necessary resources. Further, with age, children weighed multiple moral concerns including equality, merit, and others' welfare, when determining the fair allocation of resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1307-1317
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Fairness
  • Moral judgment
  • Others' welfare
  • Resource allocation
  • Resource type

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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