Inequality-Seeking Punishment

13 Pages Posted: 15 May 2010

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: May 15, 2010


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 treated unfairly people who punish systematically prefer to create self-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.

Suggested Citation

Houser, Daniel and Xiao, Erte, Inequality-Seeking Punishment (May 15, 2010). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 10-17, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Houser (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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Erte Xiao

Monash University ( email )

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