Perceived Income Inequality, Trust, and Consumers' Ethical Judgments

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Research related to consumers’ ethical judgments has generally neglected the effects of psycho-social variables (variables with both social and personal psychological components), e.g., perceived income inequality and subjective socio-economic status. In order to address this gap, an online survey of 373 US consumers was conducted to examine relationships between perceived income inequality and judgments regarding unethical and prosocial consumer actions. The mediating role of trust (general distrust of others and distrust of corporations) and moderating role of subjective socio-economic status were examined. Moderated mediation analyses demonstrated that the effects of perceived income inequality on consumers’ ethical judgments were mediated by distrust of corporations (but not by general distrust of others), for consumers who had higher subjective socio-economic status. These novel findings related to the effects of distrust of corporations highlight that, in order to explain consumers’ ethical judgments, it is essential to focus on trust relationships between consumers and other participants in the marketing system. Perceived income inequality erodes trust within marketing systems leading to negative effects on consumers’ ethical judgments. These effects are paradoxically only evident among consumers with higher subjective socio-economic status. Findings contribute to the macromarketing literature on marketing systems, marketing ethics, sustainable consumption, and distributive justice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Macromarketing
Early online date13 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Jul 2023


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