Inequality-Seeking Punishment

11 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2009

See all articles by Daniel Houser

Daniel Houser

George Mason University - Department of Economics; Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Erte Xiao

Monash University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 8, 2009


Inequality aversion is a key motive for punishment, with many prominent studies suggesting people use punishment to reduce or eliminate inequality. Punishment in laboratory games, however, is nearly always designed to promote equality (e.g., rejections in standard ultimatum games) and the marginal cost of punishment is typically non-trivially positive. As a consequence, individual preferences over punishment outcomes remain largely uninformed. We here report data from a laboratory experiment using dictator games. We find that when people are treated unfairly they systematically prefer to use punishment to create advantageous inequality. Our results shed new light on human preferences over punishment outcomes, and have important implications for the design of mechanisms to deter misconduct.

Keywords: inequality aversion, punishment, dictator games, experimetnal economics

JEL Classification: C91, D63

Suggested Citation

Houser, Daniel and Xiao, Erte, Inequality-Seeking Punishment (August 8, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Houser

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
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Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science ( email )

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George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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Erte Xiao (Contact Author)

Monash University ( email )

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Wellington Road
Clayton, Victoria 3800

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