High economic inequality is linked to greater moralization

Kelly KIRKLAND*, Paul A. M. VAN LANGE, Drew GORENZ, Khandis BLAKE, Catherine E. AMIOT, Liisi AUSMEES, Peter BAGUMA, Oumar BARRY, Maja BECKER, Michal BILEWICZ, Watcharaporn BOONYASIRIWAT, Robert W. BOOTH, Thomas CASTELAIN, Giulio COSTANTINI, Girts Dimdins, Agustín ESPINOSA, Gillian FINCHILESCU, Ronald FISCHER, Malte FRISES, Ángel GÓMEZRoberto GONZÁLEZ, Nobuhiko GOTO, Peter HALAMA, Camilo HURTADO-PARRADO, Ruby D. ILLUSTRISIMO, Gabriela M. JIGA-BOY, Peter KUPPENS, Steve LOUGHNAN, Khairul A. MASTOR, Neil MCLATCHIE, Lindsay M. NOVAK, Blessing N. ONYEKACHI, Muhammad RIZWAN, Mark SCHALLER, Eleonora SERAFIMOVSKA, Eunkook M. SUH, William B. SWANN JR., Eddie M. W. TONG, Ana TORRES, Rhiannon N. TURNER, Christin-Melanie VAUCLAIR, Alexander VINOGRADOV, Zhechen WANG, Victoria Wai Lan YEUNG, Brock Bastian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Throughout the 21st century, economic inequality is predicted to increase as we face new challenges, from changes in the technological landscape to the growing climate crisis. It is crucial we understand how these changes in inequality may affect how people think and behave. We propose that economic inequality threatens the social fabric of society, in turn increasing moralization – that is, the greater tendency to employ or emphasize morality in everyday life – as an attempt to restore order and control. Using longitudinal data from X, formerly known as Twitter, our first study demonstrates that high economic inequality is associated with greater use of moral language online (e.g., the use of words such as ‘disgust’, ‘hurt’ and ‘respect’). Study 2 then examined data from 41 regions around the world, generally showing that higher inequality has a small association with harsher moral judgments of people’s everyday actions. Together these findings demonstrate that economic inequality is linked to the tendency to see the world through a moral lens.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberpgae221
JournalPNAS Nexus
Early online date5 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jun 2024


  • Moralization
  • economic inequality
  • anomie
  • moral judgements
  • Twitter


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