How Income Shapes Moral Judgments of Prosocial Behavior

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
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Final version published as: 

Olson, J. G., McFerran, B., Morales, A. C., & Dahl, D. W. (2020). How Income Shapes Moral Judgments of Prosocial Behavior. International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Date created: 
DOI: 10.1016/j.ijresmar.2020.07.001
Impoverished consumers
Ethical consumption
Prosocial behavior
Tax policy

The current research extends past work on how consumers (as “observers”) view ethical choices made by others (“actors”). Using a person-centered approach to moral judgments, we show that consumers are judged differentially, based on their income, for engaging in certain prosocial behaviors. Nine studies demonstrate that engaging in the same prosocial behavior, such as volunteering, leads to different responses depending on whether the actor earns income versus receives government assistance. Consistent with our theorizing, we find that aid recipients are given less latitude in how they spend their time than those earning an income and are scrutinized to a greater degree for their choices because people believe their time would be better spent seeking employment. Consequently, the lower moral judgments of aid recipients who choose to volunteer (vs. income earners) are driven, at least in part, by the anger observers feel about the perceived misuse of time. Additional information or cues about employment efforts or work inability attenuate these judgments. Importantly, we document implications for support for federal spending on welfare programs.


The full text of this paper will be available in August, 2021 due to the embargo policies of International Journal of Research in Marketing for works funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Contact to enquire if the full text of the accepted manuscript can be made available to you.

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Rights remain with the authors.
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)