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


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.

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    Influence statistics were calculated for each analysis to ascertain whether single cases disproportionately influenced the results. In a subset of analyses, two cases were identified as possible influence points. Dropping these two cases from those analyses did not change the pattern of results reported here.


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This study was made possible by a research grant sponsored jointly by the National Science Foundation and Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS). We are grateful for the support of both institutions and also for National Science Foundation Award # BCS-0617558 to John T. Jost, as well as funding by New York University.

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Correspondence to John T. Jost.

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Rankin, L.E., Jost, J.T. & Wakslak, C.J. System Justification and the Meaning of Life: Are the Existential Benefits of Ideology Distributed Unequally Across Racial Groups?. Soc Just Res 22, 312–333 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-009-0100-9

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  • Ideology
  • System justification
  • Religiosity
  • Well-being
  • Existential motivation