Children's Responses to Group-Based Inequalities: Perpetuation and Rectification

Soc Cogn. 2011;29(3):270-287. doi: 10.1521/soco.2011.29.3.270.


The current studies investigate whether, and under what conditions, children engage in system-perpetuating and system-attenuating behaviors when allocating resources to different social groups. In three studies, we presented young children with evidence of social group inequalities and assessed whether they chose to perpetuate or rectify these inequalities. Children (aged 3.5-11.5 years) heard about two social groups (i.e., racial or novel groups) whose members received resources unequally(two cookies versus one). Participants were then given the opportunity to distribute additional resources to new members of the same groups. In Experiment 1, when children were presented with inequalities involving groups of Blacks and Whites, older children (aged 7.5-11.5 years) rejected the status quo, providing more resources to members of groups with fewer resources (White or Black), whereas younger children (aged 3.5-7.5 years) perpetuated the status quo. In Experiments 2 and 3, the inequalities involved Asians and Whites and novel groups. Children of all ages perpetuated inequality, with rectification strategies applied only by older children and only when Black targets were involved in the inequality. Equal sharing occasionally occurred in older children but was never a common response. These findings provide evidence that system-perpetuating tendencies may be predominant in children and suggest that socialization may be necessary to counter them.