How income shapes moral judgments of prosocial behavior

Jenny G. Olson, Brent McFerran, Andrea C. Morales, Darren W. Dahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The current research extends past work on how consumers (as “observers”) view ethical choices made by others (“actors”). Using a person-centered approach to moral judgments, we show that consumers are judged differentially, based on their income, for engaging in certain prosocial behaviors. Nine studies demonstrate that engaging in the same prosocial behavior, such as volunteering, leads to different responses depending on whether the actor earns income versus receives government assistance. Consistent with our theorizing, we find that aid recipients are given less latitude in how they spend their time than those earning an income and are scrutinized to a greater degree for their choices because people believe their time would be better spent seeking employment. Consequently, the lower moral judgments of aid recipients who choose to volunteer (vs. income earners) are driven, at least in part, by the anger observers feel about the perceived misuse of time. Additional information or cues about employment efforts or work inability attenuate these judgments. Importantly, we document implications for support for federal spending on welfare programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-135
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Research in Marketing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Ethical consumption
  • Impoverished consumers
  • Income
  • Morality
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Tax policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Marketing


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