Referent networks and distributive justice

David Melamed, Hyomin Park, Jingwen Zhong, Yue Liu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Purpose This study examines how the structure of referent networks, or the social network defined by knowing others' reward levels, affects perceptions of distributive justice. The homogeneity of rewards in the referent network, the amount of inequality in the referent network, and an individual's reward level are all associated with distributive justice perceptions. Several moderating relationships are also examined. Methodology/approach We relied on data from a controlled laboratory experiment to test a series of theoretically derived hypotheses. Findings The study shows that several aspects about the structure of the referent network are important for shaping perceptions of distributive justice. Specifically, the reward heterogeneity and amount of inequality in the network are found to be negatively associated with distributive justice, while reward levels are found to be positively associated with distributive justice. Furthermore, the effect of reward levels on distributive justice is moderated by both (i) the presence of a referential standard for rewards and (ii) the amount of inequality in the network. Research limitations/implications While being among the first studies to demonstrate effects of referent networks on perceptions of fairness, it is unclear how group memberships combine with referent network effects and which factors may blur these relationships in uncontrolled environments. Subsequent scholarship on the effect of referent networks on justice perceptions should leverage multiple data sources. Originality/value of chapter Research on the effects of referents on justice perceptions has focused on particular referent individuals. We recast this issue in terms of referent networks, which highlights the empirical reality that individuals have a variety of sources or alters which could operate as referents.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Group Processes
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9781784410780
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NameAdvances in Group Processes
ISSN (Print)0882-6145


  • Distributive justice
  • Inequality
  • Networks
  • Referent network
  • Referent others


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