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Darren Dahl (Editor in Chief)Eileen FischerGita JoharVicki Morwitz

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Wealth and Welfare: Divergent Moral Reactions to Ethical Consumer Choices

Jenny G. Olson, Brent Mcferran, Andrea C. Morales, Darren W. Dahl
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucv096 ucv096 First published online: 14 January 2016


This article examines perceptions of low-income consumers receiving government assistance and the choices they make, showing that this group is viewed differently than those with more resources, even when making identical choices. A series of five experiments reveal that ethical purchases polarize moral judgments: whereas individuals receiving government assistance are perceived as less moral when choosing ethical (vs. conventional) products, income earners, particularly high-income individuals, are perceived as more moral for making the identical choice. Price is a central component of this effect, as equating the cost of ethical and conventional goods provides those receiving government assistance some protection against harsh moral judgments when choosing ethically. Moreover, earning one’s income drives perceptions of deservingness, or the right to spend as one desires. Those who receive assistance via taxpayer dollars are under greater scrutiny (frequently resulting in harsher moral judgments) by others. In addition to influencing perceptions of individual consumers, the results demonstrate that such attributions extend to groups who make ethical choices on others’ behalf, and that these attributions have real monetary consequences for non-profit organizations.

  • ethical consumption
  • moral psychology
  • attribution theory
  • equity theory
  • prosocial behavior
  • income
  • poverty
  • welfare

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