The Development of Understandings of Equality and Distribution of Resources in Norway and the United States

About the Project:


The primary objective of this research is to investigate the development of understandings of equality and resource distribution during adolescence. It will study developmental changes in understandings of equality and resource distribution from 13 to 17 years of age, relations of such developments to beliefs about the how societies and individuals operate, and differences between Norway and the United States with regards to these developments. The findings will be presented at international conferences and scientific journals.


Research questions

This longitudinal project will use novel structured interview procedures to address a set of hitherto unanswered questions:

  • How do individuals develop views on how resources should be distributed in a society?
  • What kinds of societal understandings underlie developing understandings of equality distribution? How do such developments differ between Norway and the United States?

The answers to these questions have implications for scientific theories about social development and about societal change and stability in attitudes about welfare states.


 Methodological Approach

Structured interviews will be the primary method for testing these hypotheses. Structured interviewing is a well-established method for studying social and cognitive development (e.g. Damon, 1975; Turiel, 1983, 2015). In this method, researchers present participants with a hypothetical or actual situation and ask a series of pre-specified questions. For instance, the researcher may describe a situation in which one child takes food from another child (Dahl & Kim, 2014; Nucci & Weber, 1995). The researcher then poses questions such as whether the act of taking food was all right or not all right and why the act was all right or not all right. Researchers may also seek to clarify participants’ responses by probing them further. Using this method, researchers have shown that children make categorical evaluations about social actions, draw distinctions between different types of social evaluations (e.g. conventional vs. moral evaluations), and coordinate competing considerations (See discussion above, Turiel [2015], Killen & Smetana [2015]).

Using a longitudinal design, the proposed research will administer structured interviews about equality and resource distribution to two cohorts of adolescents in Norway and the United States. Each cohort will consist of 100 participants in Norway and 100 participants in the United States, yielding a total sample size of 400 adolescents. The younger cohort will be recruited when at 13 years of age, and the older cohort will be recruited at 16 years of age. Each cohort will participate every six months for a total of four interviews per participant. Participants will be recruited from middle schools (in Norway: “ungdomskole”) and high schools (in Norway: “videregående skole”) in Oslo, Norway, and the San Francisco Bay Area, United States. The primary purpose of the two-cohort longitudinal design is to allow us to study the development of resource distribution understandings over the course of adolescence within a four-year project period. Moreover, the repeated assessment of judgments and reasoning will allow us to assess the extent to which beliefs about equality and resource distribution show intra-individual stability, and thus reflect robust orientations that may influence decisions across situations.


Prior to participating, participants must receive written consent for their parents or other legal guardians. As part of the consent process, guardians will also be asked to complete questionnaires with demographic information and socio-economic information. Consent forms and questionnaires must be returned by mail to researchers in pre-stamped envelopes before the child’s first interview. Interviews will be conducted in a separate location at the child’s school, and will be scheduled at times convenient for the child and teachers, as in our past research (e.g. Perkins & Turiel, 2007; Turiel, 2008). Each interview will last approximately 45 minutes and consist of three parts: straightforward resource distribution, societal resource distribution, and societal beliefs. For each component, participants will be presented with three types of issues (education, illness, and sustenance) and will be asked several questions about each issue.



Table 1 provides an overview of the components of the interview.


Table 1: Interview components


Resource distribution questions

Societal beliefs




Giving paper for schoolwork

Using taxes to pay for education

Why are some people unable to pay for their children’s education?

Can children go to good schools if they and their parents work hard?

Should smart children get better education than children who are less smart?


Giving painkillers for a headache

Using taxes to pay for healthcare

Why are some people unable to pay for their own health care?

Can people pay for healthcare if they work hard?

Will people be sick more often if healthcare is less expensive?


Giving food

Using taxes to pay for social welfare

Why are some people unable to have enough money to buy food?

Can people get a job if they try hard?

Will people work less if unemployment benefits are higher?











Published Jan. 19, 2018 2:32 PM - Last modified Dec. 7, 2021 3:11 PM