Tag Archives: effort

The golden age of egalitarianism is twelve

Ars Technica reports on a research paper that suggests children abandon egalitarianism and develop meritocratic attitudes as they enter adolescence:

… they set up a game where teams of children in grades five through twelve were given access to two websites. One allowed them to earn credits by completing tasks, an analogue of hard work, and the other let them play games or watch videos. At the end of each round, each pair of kids was awarded either 8¢ or 4¢ for each credit he earned, a measure that introduced an element of luck.

The researchers then added the pairs’ earnings together, and asked one of the kids to divide the  money between them. They found that kids in fifth grade tended to be more egalitarian, dividing the money equally regardless of how much either had earned.

However, meritocratic views began to sneak in as the subjects’ age increased: older adolescents not only gave partners less money for earning less, but also awarded themselves less when they had not been as productive. There was also a small but steady number of what the researchers termed  “libertarian” subjects, who divided the money exactly as it had been paid out, without considering the aspect of luck.

Interesting results. However, the real question here is an old favourite: nature or nurture? Is the emergence of meritocratic thinking hardwired into our development, or is it learned socially, from family, friends and media? Plenty of opportunity for further research, methinks… would these results pan out in societies with notably different attitudes to wealth and property ownership?