The present paper extends the needs-based model of reconciliation to contexts marked by status inequalities rather than by overt intergroup aggression. Specifically, we investigated whether and when members of high-status versus low-status groups experience divergent socio-emotional needs vis-à-vis members of the respective other status group. Building on research informed by social identity theory, we hypothesized that the groups' different positions in the social hierarchy only translate into divergent needs when the status differences are perceived as illegitimate. In Study 1 (N = 130), we tested this prediction by manipulating status and perceived legitimacy of status differences in a setting with artificially created groups. Results confirmed that the need to be socially accepted by members of the other status group was stronger in high-status compared with low-status group members but, as expected, only when the status differences were perceived to be illegitimate. Also as predicted, the need to be empowered by the other status group was stronger in low-status compared with high-status group members, again only under conditions of illegitimate status differences. Study 2 (N = 169) further corroborated our perspective by replicating these findings in a naturalistic intergroup context. Implications for the role of legitimacy perceptions in determining differential socio-emotional needs and for the promotion of sustainable social change are discussed. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.