Merit versus structure: How beliefs about the sources of socioeconomic inequality effect class-based bias in admission decisions

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Caneira, Kiah
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University of Guelph

This study empirically examines how people’s beliefs about different sources of inequality in society (i.e., whether inequality is driven by meritocratic versus non-meritocratic factors) influences the way they perceive and evaluate candidates from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Previous research shows that meritocracy beliefs are positively associated with preference for higher status groups over lower status groups. Experimentally increasing meritocracy beliefs has been shown to exacerbate class-based bias and discrimination. Thus, we test whether we can reduce class biases by educating online participants (n = 1443) about the non-meritocratic sources of socioeconomic inequality. In 2 x 4 design, we ask participants to read a passage describing one source of inequality in society (meritocracy vs. cumulative disadvantage vs. cumulative advantage vs. control), and then evaluate a low- versus high-SES target for admission to a competitive undergraduate program. We find that, overall, the high-SES target is consistently rated more positively than the low-SES target.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Social Psychology, Meritocracy, Cumulative advantage, Bias