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Distributive justice concerns the nature of a socially just allocation of goods in a society. A society in which incidental inequalities in outcome do not arise would be considered a society guided by the principles of distributive justice. The concept includes the available quantities of goods, the process by which goods are to be distributed, and the resulting allocation of the goods to the members of the society.
Often contrasted with just process, which is concerned with the administration of law, distributive justice concentrates on outcomes. This subject has been given considerable attention in philosophy and the social sciences.
In social psychology, distributive justice is defined as perceived fairness of how rewards and costs are shared by (distributed across) group members. For example, when workers of the same job are paid different salaries, group members may feel that distributive justice has not occurred.
To determine whether distributive justice has taken place, individuals often turn to the distributive norms of their group. A norm is the standard of behaviour that is required, desired, or designated as normal within a particular group. If rewards and costs are allocated according to the designated distributive norms of the group, distributive justice has occurred.
Types of distributive norms
Five types of distributive norm are defined by Forsyth:
- Equity: Member’s outcomes should be based upon their inputs. Therefore, an individual who has invested a large amount of input (e.g. time, money, energy) should receive more from the group than someone who has contributed very little. Members of large groups prefer to base allocations of rewards and costs on equity.
- Equality: Regardless of their inputs, all group members should be given an equal share of the rewards/costs. Equality supports that someone who contributes 20% of the group’s resources should receive as much as someone who contributes 60%.
- Power: Those with more authority, status, or control over the group should receive more than those in lower level positions.
- Need: Those in greatest needs should be provided with resources needed to meet those needs. These individuals should be given more resources than those who already possess them, regardless of their input.
- Responsibility: Group members who have the most should share their resources with those who have less.
In the context of organizational justice, distributive justice is conceptualized as fairness associated with outcomes decisions and distribution of resources. The outcomes or resources distributed may be tangible (e.g., pay) as well as intangible (e.g., praise). Perceptions of distributive justice can be fostered when outcomes are perceived to be equally applied (Adams, 1965).
Distributive justice affects performance when efficiency and productivity are involved (Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001). Improving perceptions of justice increases performance (Karriker & Williams, 2009). Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) are employee actions in support of the organization that are outside the scope of their job description. Such behaviors depend on the degree to which an organization is perceived to be distributively just (Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001; Karriker & Williams, 2009). As organizational actions and decisions are perceived as more just, employees are more likely to engage in OCBs. Perceptions of distributive justice are also strongly related also to the withdrawal of employees from the organization (Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001).
Distributive justice and wealth
Distributive justice considers whether the distribution of goods among the members of society at a given time is subjectively acceptable.
Not all advocates of consequentialist theories are concerned with an equitable society. What unites them is the mutual interest in achieving the best possible results or, in terms of the example above, the best possible distribution of wealth.
In policy positions
Distributive justice theory argues that societies have a duty to individuals in need and that all individuals have a duty to help others in need. Proponents of distributive justice link it to human rights.
Many governments are known for dealing with issues of distributive justice, especially countries with ethnic tensions and geographically distinctive minorities. Post-apartheid South Africa is an example of a country that deals with issues of re-allocating resources with respect to the distributive justice framework.
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