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Social Class and Racial Prejudice: A Re-examination of the “Working-Class Authoritarianism” Hypothesis


Social class, a multifaceted construct implicated in the formation of social values and interpersonal behavior, has long been debated as either a driver or inhibitor of racial prejudice. Here, I test the relationship between various components of social class and racial prejudice, predicting that prejudice will be positively correlated with social class when operationalized as income or subjective rank, and negatively correlated with social class when operationalized as educational attainment. An internal meta-analysis of 6 studies (N = 77,574) provided support for the first hypothesis, but not the second: income and subjective rank were found to be positively associated with racial prejudice, operationalized through a variety of survey measures of prejudice and the IAT. Educational attainment, in contrast, was not significantly associated with prejudice. Three hypothesized mechanism variables (power, SDO, and intergroup contact) provided inconsistent evidence of mediation of the relationship between income/subjective rank and racial prejudice. These findings contribute to the existing literature on social class and prejudice, suggesting that in certain social contexts, greater material wealth and subjective rank are associated with increased prejudice against racial minorities. These findings also illuminate the importance of studying the ways in which the various components of social class denote subtle differences in their downstream psychological effects. Implications of these findings for societies characterized by increasing racial socioeconomic stratification are discussed.

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