Experimental Economics

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 437–449 | Cite as

Promoting justice by treating people unequally: an experimental study

  • Alice Becker
  • Luis M. MillerEmail author
Open Access


Which inequalities among individuals are considered unjust? This paper reports the results of an experiment designed to study distributive choices dealing with arbitrarily unequal initial endowments. In a three-person distribution problem where subjects either know or do not know their endowments, we find impartial behavior to be a stable pattern. Subjects either compensate for initial inequalities fully or not at all in both conditions, and they do so more often when they do not know their endowment than when they know it. Moreover, the type and the size of the good to be distributed also affect the frequency of impartial behavior.


Veil of ignorance Impartial behavior Distributive justice Procedural fairness 

JEL Classification

C72 C92 

Supplementary material

10683_2009_9222_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (607 kb)
Instructions. (PDF 595 kB)
10683_2009_9222_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (25 kb)
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material. (XLSX 26 kB)


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute of EconomicsJenaGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Experimental Social Sciences, Nuffield CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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