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Ethics & Social Class

March 13, 2012

The higher your socioeconomic status, the more prone you may be to unethical behavior.



High class and low scruples… I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Wealthy people may be less ethical than lower-class people.  This according to social psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California at Berkeley.  His team conducted seven different studies of ethics and social class.  They found that upper-class people were more likely to break traffic laws, cheat in a game, lie in a negotiation, and approve of other unethical behavior.  As to why, Piff thinks it’s a matter of values.

PAUL PIFF (University of California, Berkeley):

We measure social values among upper and lower-class individuals, and found that upper-class individuals express a greater commitment, and increased positive beliefs, about the pursuit of greed.  They’re more likely to say that pursuing greed and self-interest above the welfare of others is a moral thing.

What’s not clear is whether this greed tolerance is a result of being wealthy, a cause of it, or both.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.