Becker Friedman Institute

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The Merit Primacy Effect

Do people give primacy to merit when luck partly determines earnings? This paper reports from a novel experiment where third-party spectators have to decide whether to redistribute from a high-earner to a low-earner in cases where earnings are determined by luck and merit. Our main finding is that the spectators assign strong primacy to merit in such situations, and as a result violate basic fairness conditions. We believe that the results shed new light on inequality acceptance in society, in particular by showing how just a little bit of merit can make people significantly more inequality accepting.

Authors: 
Alexander Cappelen, Norwegian School of Economics
Karl Ove Moene, University of Oslo
Siv-Elisabeth Skjelbred, University of Oslo
Bertil Tungodden, Norwegian School of Economics
Publication Date: 
June, 2017
Publication Status: 
Document Number: 
2017-047
File Description: 
First version, April 25, 2017