Are the rich more (un)ethical than the poor?
Are the rich more unethical than the poor? To answer this question, the current research introduces a key conceptual distinction between selfish and unethical behaviour. Based on this distinction, the current article offers 2 novel findings that illuminate the relationship between social class and unethical behaviour.
First, the effects of social class on unethical behaviour are not invariant; rather, the effects of social class are moderated by whether unethical behaviour benefits the self or others. Replicating past work, social class positively predicted unethical behaviour; however, this relationship was only observed when that behaviour was self-beneficial. When unethical behaviour was performed to benefit others, social class negatively predicted unethical behaviour; lower class individuals were more likely than upper class individuals to engage in unethical behaviour.
Overall, social class predicts people’s tendency to behave selfishly, rather than predicting unethical behaviour per se. Second, individuals’ sense of power drove the effects of social class on unethical behaviour. Evidence for this relationship was provided in three forms.
First, income, but not education level, predicted unethical behaviour.
Second, feelings of power mediated the effect of social class on unethical behaviour, but feelings of status did not.
Third, two distinct manipulations of power produced the same moderation by self-versus-other beneficiary as was found with social class.
The current theoretical framework and data both synthesise and help to explain a range of findings in the social class and power literatures.
Dubois, D., Rucker, D., Galinsky, A. & Kawakami, K. 2015. Social Class, Power, and Selfishness: When and Why Upper and Lower Class Individuals Behave Unethically.