Inconsistent allocations of harms versus benefits may exacerbate environmental inequality

Tamar Makov, George E. Newman, Gal Zauberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report five studies that examine preferences for the allocation of environmental harms and benefits. In all studies, participants were presented with scenarios in which an existing environmental inequality between two otherwise similar communities could either be decreased or increased through various allocation decisions. Our results demonstrate that despite well-established preferences toward equal outcomes, people express weaker preferences for options that increase equality when considering the allocation of environmental harms (e.g., building new polluting facilities) than when considering the allocation of environmental benefits (e.g., applying pollution-reducing technologies). We argue that this effect emerges from fairness considerations rooted in a psychological incompatibility between the allocation of harms, which is seen as an inherently unfair action, and equality, which is a basic fairness principle. Since the allocation of harms is an inevitable part of operations of both governments and businesses, our results suggest that where possible, parties interested in increasing environmental equality may benefit from framing such proposals as bestowing relative benefits instead of imposing relative harms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8820-8824
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - 21 Apr 2020


  • Allocation decisions
  • Environmental justice
  • Fairness
  • Harms vs. benefits
  • Inequality

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Inconsistent allocations of harms versus benefits may exacerbate environmental inequality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this