The effects of grade level, context, and family type on male and female adolescents' distributive justice reasoning

Ann V. McGillicuddy-De Lisi, Richard De Lisi, Kate Van Gulik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This study investigated ninth and twelfth grade students' (N=640) distributive justice reasoning. Participants read stories presenting characters that varied in personal characteristics (popularity, productivity, need, and appearance), family type (biologically related/stepsiblings), and context (work/education). Adolescents allocated rewards to story characters, provided rationales for allocations, and judged the fairness of allocation patterns representing different justice principles. Older adolescents were more likely to favor equity and benevolence principles than younger adolescents on all three measures. Older adolescents, especially female students, also took kinship and contextual factors into account more often than younger adolescents. Male students tended to favor equity across conditions; female students' views of fairness showed greater nuance, varying to a greater degree with relationship and contextual factors. Findings suggest distributive justice reasoning continues to develop through late adolescence, probably due to age-related cognitive and socialization factors and experiences. Further, findings suggest that gender differences in adult justice reasoning arise in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-124
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Adolescents
  • Contextual effects
  • Distributive justice reasoning
  • Gender differences
  • Stepfamilies


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