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Is My Income Fair? The Relevance of the Reference Income, Income Distribution and Social Position for Justice Sentiments

Shamon (2014)


Based on the “Status-Value-Theory”, “A New Theory of Distributive Justice” and the exchange theories it can be concluded that individuals evaluate their own income as being just or unjust according to the average reference incomes, income inequality and their social position within an income hierarchy. In order to analyze this issue, a web-based survey with an integrated experimental set-up was carried out in the beginning of 2012. The analysis of the experimental data of 906 participants shows that the respondents based their income justice evaluations on average incomes of people with same professional qualifications and supports the “Status-Value-Theory”. Evidence for the impact of the income distribution among the reference group on justice evaluations, as stated by “A New Theory of Distributive Justice”, could only be found for respondents ranked at the lower end of the income scale. A similar pattern could be found for the effect of a respondent’s social position on his or her income justice evaluations that was expected on the basis of the exchange theories. The social position affects the income justice evaluations only in case that incomes are sufficiently unequally distributed. This article may also be of interest to readers who are rather interested in methodological issues than in the topic of income justice. The stimuli used in this study were designed by taking into account the information provided by the respondents (dynamic stimuli).