Class attitudes and the American work ethic: Praise for the hardworking poor and derogation of the lazy rich

Mackenzie Ess, Sara E. Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Across four studies (n = 1689), this research contributes to an empirical understanding of the relationship between class-related attitudes and perceived work ethic. We tested contexts in which counterstereotypical cues of low socioeconomic status (SES) and White targets lead to more positive evaluations. In study 1, participants judged a low-SES candidate in a job hiring scenario as warmer and more competent than a high-SES candidate. A follow-up study found that trait words related to work ethic were salient in the hiring context, and particularly associated with this low-SES candidate. Study 2 orthogonally manipulated both income and perceptions of work ethic, with the work ethic manipulation impacting participant evaluations of both low- and high-income targets. Study 3 investigated a scenario in which no information on work ethic was provided. In study 4, a counterstereotypical low-income target (described as goal-oriented and studious) was evaluated as more hardworking than the average low-income person, average person on welfare, and average homeless person. Together, these results demonstrate that it is possible for a subtype of the “hardworking poor” to override more general stereotypes of low-SES targets as lazy or incompetent. This research suggests that interpersonal judgments based on SES are highly sensitive to work ethic cues. Additionally, we highlight the need for future research to further investigate experimental manipulations of social class and constructs related to work ethic, including dispositional and situational attributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104301
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Class attitudes
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Stereotyping/prejudice
  • Work ethic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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