- Journal Article
- Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
People often judge how much “the rich” deserve to be rich by taking into consideration how they had made their wealth. How do people make such judgments about the origins of others' wealth? In nine studies (N = 1707) and two supplemental analyses (N = 197), we examine whether the attributions people make about wealth are influenced by the way wealthy people spend their money. We find that people are more likely to attribute economic success to internal factors (such as hard work and competence) when “the rich” spend their money charitably versus when they spend it in a more luxurious manner. Moreover, we find that the tendency to attribute wealth to internal factors is due to judgments about wealthy individuals' character, and that the influence of spending on trait attribution is substantially larger for merit-related traits (e.g., persistence or industriousness) than other positive traits that are unrelated to merit (e.g., elegance or youthfulness). Finally, we find that how “the rich” spend their fortunes influences beliefs about how much they deserve to be rich. The more wealthy people give their money to charity, the more people believe that they deserve to have it in the first place.