A Genetic Basis of Economic Egalitarianism

Abstract

Studies of political attitudes and ideologies have sought to explain their origin. They have been assumed to be a result of political values ingrained during the process of socialization until early adulthood, as well as personal political experience, party affiliation, social strata, etc. As a consequence of these environment-dominated explanations, most biology-based accounts of political preference have never been considered. However, in the light of evidence accumulated in recent years, the view that political attitudes are detached from any physical properties became unsustainable. In this paper, we investigate the origins of social justice attitudes, with special focus on economic egalitarianism and its potential genetic basis. We use Minnesota Twin Study data from 2008, collected from samples of monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs (n = 573) in order to estimate the additive genetic, shared environmental, and unique environmental components of social justice attitudes. Our results show that the large portion of the variance in a four-item economic egalitarianism scale can be attributed to genetic factor. At the same time, shared environment, as a socializing factor, has no significant effect. The effect of environment seems to be fully reserved for unique personal experience. Our findings further problematize a long-standing view that social justice attitudes are dominantly determined by socialization.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The sole exception to their findings is left–right identification, which was found to be highly susceptible to different local and cultural interpretations, and may suggest group identification more than ideological position (Hatemi et al., 2014:10).

  2. 2.

    In this paper, we focus on more traditional social justice concerns associated with economic equality (distributive justice). Therefore, throughout the paper we use the terms “economic egalitarianism” and “social justice” interchangeably. However, we do recognize that different concepts of social justice are becoming increasingly relevant, such as group recognition (cultural justice), which brings greater focus on, for example, equal treatment of ethnic or gender identities (Fraser, 1999).

  3. 3.

    In addition to self-interest, value-based approaches are recognized as very important. They posit that individual’s normative orientations are likely to profoundly affect his/her attitudes toward justice and equality (Roller, 1995; Sachweh, 2016, in Sabbagh & Schmitt). One of the widely explored value systems in any study of redistributive politics is humanitarianism—the belief that people have responsibilities for their fellow human beings. In general, humanitarianism and egalitarianism affect support for welfare policies differently. While the latter is associated with support for extensive governmental intervention, the former is associated with support for modest policies focused on those in need (e.g., poverty relief) (Feldman & Steenbergen, 2001). Despite the fact that the two are considered to be distinct belief systems, some of our measures of egalitarianism make direct reference to income and basic needs of poor people. Thus, we believe that the two would be, in this case, highly correlated and likely to originate from the same social and biological processes.

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Funding

The data employed in this project were collected with the financial support of the National Science Foundation in the form of SES-0721378, PI: John R. Hibbing; Co-PIs: John R.Alford, Lindon J. Eaves, Carolyn L. Funk, Peter K. Hatemi, and Kevin B. Smith, and with the cooperation of the Minnesota Twin Registry at the University of Minnesota, Robert Krueger and Matthew McGue, Directors.

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Correspondence to Levente Littvay.

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Nemanja Batrićević declares that he has no conflict of interest. Levente Littvay declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Fig. 4
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Fully specified CPM model

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Batrićević, N., Littvay, L. A Genetic Basis of Economic Egalitarianism. Soc Just Res 30, 408–437 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-017-0297-y

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Keywords

  • Social justice
  • Equality
  • Egalitarianism
  • Genes
  • Genetics
  • Twin studies