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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2013 Sep;8(5):487-97. doi: 10.1177/1745691613491272.

Social Class and (Un)Ethical Behavior: A Framework, With Evidence From a Large Population Sample.

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Tilburg School of Economics and Management, Department of Economics, Tilburg University.
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


Differences in ethical behavior between members of the upper and lower classes have been at the center of civic debates in recent years. In this article, we present a framework for understanding how class affects ethical standards and behaviors. We apply the framework using data from a large Dutch population sample. The data include objective measures of class, survey responses relating to ethical behavior, and results from an experiment designed to probe ethical choices. Ethical behavior proves to be affected by (a) moral values, (b) social orientation, and (c) the costs and benefits of taking various actions. Strong class differences emerge in each of these areas, leading to differences in behavior. Moreover, strong differences among different conceptions of class (wealth, education, etc.) produce additional variation. We argue that the relationship between class and ethical behavior is far from a simple pattern; it is a complex mosaic.


attitudes; social cognition; socioeconomic status


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