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Age Differences in Perceptions of Rich and Poor People: Is It Skill or Luck?


Correspondence should be addressed to Carol K. Sigelman, Department of Psychology, 2125 G. St. NW, The George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052, USA. Email:


To gain new perspective on the development of understandings and perceptions of income inequality, this study compared the reactions of six, eight, and 10-year-olds to a rich man and a poor man and the winners and losers of a contest of skill and a game of chance. Age differences in attributions for outcomes reflected a strengthening with age of the skill–luck distinction and of equity thinking about wealth. Although men with good outcomes were generally perceived more positively than men with bad outcomes, and likeability was affected only by outcome, 10-year-olds differentiated most sharply among different types of ‘winners’ or ‘losers’, viewing the rich and poor men as more like the winner and loser of a contest of skill than like the winner and loser of a game of chance. Overall, the findings suggest that differential evaluation of rich and poor people may begin as affective tagging based on good or bad life outcomes and later be associated with justifications grounded in an equity perspective on income inequality that emphasizes the role of personal qualities such as ability in wealth accumulation.