Social Justice Research

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 312–333

System Justification and the Meaning of Life: Are the Existential Benefits of Ideology Distributed Unequally Across Racial Groups?


  • Lindsay E. Rankin
    • Department of PsychologyNew York University
    • Department of PsychologyNew York University
  • Cheryl J. Wakslak
    • Marshall School of BusinessUniversity of Southern California

DOI: 10.1007/s11211-009-0100-9

Cite this article as:
Rankin, L.E., Jost, J.T. & Wakslak, C.J. Soc Just Res (2009) 22: 312. doi:10.1007/s11211-009-0100-9


In this research, we investigated the relations among system justification, religiosity, and subjective well-being in a sample of nationally representative low-income respondents in the United States. We hypothesized that ideological endorsement of the status quo would be associated with certain existential and other psychological benefits, but these would not necessarily be evenly distributed across racial groups. Results revealed that religiosity was positively associated with subjective well-being in general, but the relationship between system justification and well-being varied considerably as a function of racial group membership. For low-income European Americans, stronger endorsement of system justification as an ideology was associated with increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and a wide range of existential benefits, including life satisfaction and a subjective sense of security, meaning, and mastery. These findings are consistent with the notion that system justification satisfies psychological needs for personal control and serves a palliative function for its adherents. However, many of these effects were considerably weakened or even reversed for African American respondents. Thus, the psychological benefits associated with religiosity existed for both racial groups, whereas the benefits of system justification were distributed unequally across racial groups.


IdeologySystem justificationReligiosityWell-beingExistential motivation

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009