Justifying Inequality: A Cross-Temporal Investigation of U.S. Income Disparities and Just-World Beliefs from 1973 to 2006
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This cross-temporal meta-analysis examined 6,120 American college students’ scores on the Belief in a Just World Scale (BJW; Rubin and Peplau, J Soc Issues 31(3):65–90, 1975) across the last three and a half decades. Drawing on models of belief threat, we examined whether the causal relationship between perceived injustice and increases in BJW could extend from the laboratory to society by using macro-economic injustice trends to predict changes in BJW across these decades. Specifically, we hypothesized that perceptions of inequality, operationalized as rising income disparities, would result in a greater need to justify this inequality and that this would be evidenced by increased commitment to just world beliefs over time. Consistent with this prediction, BJW scores increased significantly over time and this increase was positively related to increasing income disparities in society. Income inequality remained a significant predictor of BJW scores even after controlling for additional factors of general income and political ideology. Implications of increasing just world beliefs are discussed in terms of psychological and policy outcomes.