Heterogeneity and Inequality

People differ in intelligence, cognitive ability, personality traits, motivation, and similar valued and, to a large degree, inherited characteristics that determine success and achievements. When does individual heterogeneity turn into a fair distribution of rewards and outcomes?

While most prior sociological and social psychological research has investigated subjective individual perceptions of fairness and inequality, in this project we shift our focus to objectively quantifying the fairness of emergent group outcomes. We first investigate the functional relationship between individual endowments and outcomes to distinguish between fairness concepts such as meritocracy, equality of opportunity, equality of outcomes, and Rawl’s theory of justice. We then use a network cooperation experiment to study how information about individual endowments and outcomes affects social interaction groups in relation to these fairness patterns. We find that while visible outcomes lessen inequality by decreasing the dispersion of outcomes across the group, endowments need to be visible for better equality of opportunity for the most disadvantaged.

The project was completed in collaboration with Oana Vuculescu, Claudia Wagner, Petar Dinev, and Science At Home, headed by Jacob Sherson at Aarhus University. The article was published in PLoS ONE.