The Preconditions and Consequences of Relative Deprivation: Two Field Studies1


  • 1

    The present research was supported by a research grant to the first author and a postdoctoral fellowship to the second author, both from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and by a James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award to the first author. We thank Michael Atkinson, Faye Crosby, Carolyn Hafer, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on a previous version of the manuscript.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to James M. Olson, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6A 5C2, Canada.


Two field studies assessed the preconditions and behavioral consequences of relative deprivation. A sample of single mothers receiving government assistance participated in Study 1, and a sample of working women participated in Study 2. We found general support for a 2-factor model of the preconditions of relative deprivation, in which wanting the desired state and deserving the desired state were the best predictors of discontent. In both studies, discontent regarding the status of one's group (i.e., single mothers or working women) was specifically predictive of reports of group-directed protest behaviors. In Study 2, discontent regarding one's own status was specifically predictive of willingness to engage in self-improvement behaviors. Participants in both studies reported more group discontent than personal discontent. These findings provide support from naturalistic settings for the construct of relative deprivation.