Distributive justice

Distributive justice concerns the socially just allocation of goods. 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. Distributive justice is fundamental to the Catholic Church's social teaching, inspiring such figures as Dorothy Day[1] and Pope John Paul II.[2]

In social psychology, distributive justice is defined as perceived fairness of how rewards and costs are shared by (distributed across) group members.[3] For example, when some workers work more hours but receive the same pay, group members may feel that distributive justice has not occurred.

To determine whether distributive justice has taken place, individuals often turn to the behavioral expectations of their group.[3] If rewards and costs are allocated according to the designated distributive norms of the group, distributive justice has occurred.[4]

Types of distributive norms

Five types of distributive norm are defined by Donelson R. Forsyth:[3]

  1. 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%. .
  2. Equity: Members' 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.
  3. Power: Those with more authority, status, or control over the group should receive more than those in lower level positions.
  4. 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.
  5. Responsibility: Group members who have the most should share their resources with those who have less.


Distributive justice affects performance when efficiency and productivity are involved.[5] Improving perceptions of justice increases performance.[6] 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.[5][6] 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.[5]


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.

Environmental justice

Distributive justice in an environmental context is the equitable distribution of a society's technological and environmental risks, impacts, and benefits. These burdens include air pollution, landfills, industrial factories, and other environmental burdens. Distributive justice is an essential principle of environmental justice because there is evidence that shows that these burdens cause health problems, negatively affect quality of life, and drive down property value.

The potential negative social impacts of environmental degradation and regulatory policies have been at the center environmental discussions since the rise of environmental justice.[7] Historically, in the United States, environmental burdens fall on poor communities that are predominantly African-American, Native-American, Latino, and Appalachian.[8]

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.

See also


  1. Zwick, Mark and Louise (2005). The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins. Paulist Press. ISBN 978-0809143153.
  2. "Catechism of the Catholic Church - Social justice". www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2018-11-03.
  3. Forsyth, D. R. (2006). Conflict. In Forsyth, D. R. , Group Dynamics (5th Ed.) (P. 388 - 389) Belmont: CA, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
  4. Deutsch, M. (1975). Equity, equality, and need: What determines which value will be used as the basis of distributive justice?. Journal of Social Issues, 31, 137–149.
  5. Cohen-Charash, Y., & Spector, P.E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86, 278–321.
  6. Karriker, J.H.; Williams M.L. (2009). "Organizational Justice and Organizational Citizenship Behavior: A Mediated Multifoci Model". Journal of Management 35, 112.
  7. McGurty, Eileen (1997). "From NIMBY to Civil Rights: The Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement". Environmental History. 2 (3): 301–323. doi:10.2307/3985352.
  8. Shrader-Frenchette, Kristin (January 2006). Environmental Justice: Creating Equity, Reclaiming Democracy. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780198034704.


Further reading

  • Hegtvedt, Karen A.; Markovsky, Barry (1995), "Justice and Injustice", in Cook, Karen S.; Fine, Gary Alan; House, James S. (eds.), Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology (1 ed.), Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon (published 1994), pp. 257–280, ISBN 0-205-13716-4
  • Leventhal, Gerald S.; Karuza, Jurgis Jr.; Fry, William R. (1980), "Beyond Fairness: A Theory of Allocation Preferences", in Mikula, Gerald (ed.), Justice and Social Interaction: Experimental and Theoretical Contributions from Psychological Research, New York City, NY: Plenum, pp. 167–218, ISBN 3-456-80787-2
  • Bullemore, Thomas (2013), Justicia Distributiva y Riesgos, Academia.edu
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