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Children Associate Racial Groups With Wealth: Evidence From South Africa


  • This research was supported by a grant from the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. In addition, the development of the measures used in this research was made possible by Grant 059996 from NICHD. The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NICHD. The authors wish to thank Colin Tredoux for providing photographs of South African adults, and for providing feedback on the manuscript; and Leah Hoosain, Thami Hlatshwayo, Nastasha Crow, and Nande Mabona for assistance with data collection.

concerning this article should be addressed to Kristina R. Olson, Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520. Electronic mail may be sent to


Group-based social hierarchies exist in nearly every society, yet little is known about whether children understand that they exist. The present studies investigated whether 3- to 10-year-old children (N = 84) in South Africa associate higher status racial groups with higher levels of wealth, one indicator of social status. Children matched higher value belongings with White people more often than with multiracial or Black people and with multiracial people more often than with Black people, thus showing sensitivity to the de facto racial hierarchy in their society. There were no age-related changes in children’s tendency to associate racial groups with wealth differences. The implications of these results are discussed in light of the general tendency for people to legitimize and perpetuate the status quo.