Examining how individuals perceive, comprehend, and respond to unequal social and organisational contexts

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


    Human beings often exhibit paradoxical responses: they may respond to a particular event or issue in a way when they directly experience it whereas in a different way when they observe or imagine it happening to others. So too their responses to inequality: existing evidence shows that individuals simultaneously express a dislike for it as well as a preference for greater equality, yet their behaviours often align with actions that support and perpetuate inequality. Why is the case? Based on a comprehensive analysis on previous literature and five empirical studies (Studies 1,2,3a,3b, 4), Chapter 1-5 of this thesis found that when individuals are immersed in the economically unequal social and organisational environment they tend to be propelled by their contingent self-worth on social status and wealth to think, behave, and relate to others in a way that may facilitate inequality. The goal to validate their self-worth is so powerful that individuals are driven to pursuit more achievements in the contingent domains, prefer to work for an unequal organisation in order to move up, and suffer from low self- evaluations.

    These findings seem highly pessimistic: despite being harmful to themselves, individuals are propelled by their contingent self-worth to engage in behaviours that may further contribute to inequality (e.g., prefer unequal and less democratic workplace). This concern has led the second half of this thesis to ask: if inequality traps people who live in economically unequal societies, can inequality be reduced by the very same group of people? Chapter 6-8 showed that when they are observing intraorganisational inequality in the marketplace, individuals tend to support organisations that are more equal. Findings of this thesis contribute to a better understanding of the inequality syndrome and the design of interventions for reducing inequality.
    Date of Award29 Nov 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of St Andrews
    SupervisorBoyka Antonova Bratanova (Supervisor) & Juliette Clair Summers (Supervisor)


    • Economic inequality
    • Self-esteem
    • Organisational inequality
    • Fair work
    • Social psychology
    • Consumers' responses

    Access Status

    • Full text embargoed until
    • 6 September 2024

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