Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 247–277 | Cite as

Perceived Relative Deprivation and Risk: An Aspiration-Based Model of Human Trafficking Vulnerability

  • Cecilia Hyunjung MoEmail author
Original Paper


While human trafficking often conjures up images of victims being taken by force, in reality, a minority of today’s slave population are physically abducted. Rather, a significant share of human trafficking victims are “pushed” (e.g., trying to escape crisis conditions) or “pulled” (e.g., pursuing the prospect of economic opportunities) into situations of high risk. This study focuses on those who are “pulled” into risky scenarios, assessing when individuals make decisions that may put themselves at risk. I assume that individuals are boundedly rational, and propose an aspiration-based model of decision-making, which predicts that increased salience in relative deprivation can lead individuals to be more risk-seeking, putting themselves and their children at greater risk for exploitation. Using both an original survey experiment and nationally-representative data in Nepal, I find that consistent with the theoretical model, perceptions of relative deprivation induce more risk-seeking behavior. This result speaks to the interaction between inequality and risk tolerance, and how economic and social forces that alter perceived relative deprivation can increase vulnerability to exploitation.


Relative deprivation Prospect theory Bounded rationality Human trafficking Risk 



This research was supported by a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Presidential Fellowship, a Michelle R. Clayman Institute of Gender Dissertation Fellowship, a Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society research grant, a PLAN International research grant, a Stanford GSB William Miller Research Fund grant, a Stanford Community Engagement grant, and a Stanford GSB Human Subjects research grant. A debt of gratitude goes to Jonathan Bendor, Jon Krosnick, David Laitin, Neil Malhotra, William Mishler, Elizabeth Zechmeister, and Cathy Zimmerman for their guidance and support. Kirin Jessel, Shreya Paudel, Oasis Paudel, and Prajwol Shakya served as excellent research assistants. The GSB Behavioral Lab, Himalayan Human Rights International, and Plan Nepal were invaluable to my efforts in data collection. I also appreciate the helpful comments and suggestions from the participants and discussants at the Annual American Political Science Association and Midwest Political Science Association Meetings, as well as political science workshops at UCLA, University of Southern California, University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt University. All errors and opinions are my own. The replication code and data files to reproduce the results in this study are available at:

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9401_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (73 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 74 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Political ScienceVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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