Neoliberalism and the Ideological Construction of Equity Beliefs

Shahrzad Goudarzi, Vivienne Badaan, Eric D. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers across disciplines, including psychology, have sought to understand how people evaluate the fairness of resource distributions. Equity, defined as proportionality of rewards to merit, has dominated the conceptualization of distributive justice in psychology; some scholars have cast it as the primary basis on which distributive decisions are made. The present article acts as a corrective to this disproportionate emphasis on equity. Drawing on findings from different subfields, we argue that people possess a range of beliefs about how valued resources should be allocated—beliefs that vary systematically across developmental stages, relationship types, and societies. By reinvigorating notions of distributive justice put forth by the field’s pioneers, we further argue that prescriptive beliefs concerning resource allocation are ideological formations embedded in socioeconomic and historical contexts. Fairness beliefs at the micro level are thus shaped by those beliefs’ macro-level instantiations. In a novel investigation of this process, we consider neoliberalism, the globally dominant socioeconomic model of the past 40 years. Using data from more than 160 countries, we uncover evidence that neoliberal economic structures shape equity-based distributive beliefs at the individual level. We conclude by advocating an integrative approach to the study of distributive justice that bridges micro- and macro-level analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1431-1451
Number of pages21
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • distributive justice
  • equality
  • equity
  • ideology, dynamic structural equation modeling (DSEM)
  • neoliberalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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