Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Financial Kindness

Yet another interesting scientific perspective about kindness. This time in the form of wealth distribution. Scientists (anthropologists and evolutionary theorists) are suggesting that we, as a society, are inherently programmed toward fairness. In fact, it contributes to our survival.

An article in the New York Times, Thirst for Fairness May Have Helped Us Survive, by Natalie Angier, presents a number of scientific studies as well as real-life examples of remote tribal peoples, that indicate fairness may be an evolutionary trait.

One particular study, was particularly interesting. Researchers from Harvard Business School and Duke University, surveyed approximately 5000 Americans (an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, across 47 states, equal number of men and women, and varying levels of personal income) about wealth distribution. What was fascinating about this survey is that all the participants greatly underestimated the current wealth distribution gap in the U.S.. As it stands, the top 20% control 84% of the wealth. More importantly however, is that when the survey participants were asked to choose an ideal wealth distribution, "All groups—even the wealthiest respondents—desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be..."

Professors, and authors of, The Spirt Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, provide a list on their website that details the evidence for equality. Here is a sampling of positive outcomes of more equal societies:

  • People in more equal societies live longer, a smaller proportion of children die in infancy and self-rated health is better
  • People in more equal societies are far less likely to experience mental illness
  • People in more equal societies are less likely to use illegal drugs.
  • Children do better at school in more equal societies
  • Communities are more cohesive and people trust each other more in more equal societies
  • Homicide rates are lower and children experience less violence in more equal societies
  • More equal societies spend a higher proportion their income on overseas aid and perform better on the Global Peace Index
Do you think people are kinder in more equal societies? You'll see in Natalie's article that fairness and kindness have a lot in common. It's encouraging to learn that even if people are unaware of extent of the wealth gap, that they feel, inherently, that it should be more equal.

And they are correct. The evidence speaks for itself.

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