Class Attitudes and Endorsement of the Protestant Work Ethic

Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Sara E. Burke


class attitudes, class prejudice, protestant work ethic, socioeconomic status

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Class prejudice is an area of intergroup relations research that remains relatively unexplored, despite having important interpersonal and cultural consequences. Through four studies, this research aims to broaden current understandings of factors that influence class prejudice. Study one applied a frequently used paradigm in intergroup relations research (a simulated hiring scenario) to the area of class prejudice. Contradicting prior research, I found that participants had significantly more positive attitudes toward a low-socioeconomic status (SES) candidate than a high-SES candidate. Study two examined how salient indicators of work ethic may play a pivotal role in a hiring context. The third study manipulated both SES and perceptions of work ethic to investigate the role that endorsement of the Protestant work ethic (PWE) plays in shaping class attitudes. Study four investigated how evaluations of a candidate may differ when no information on work ethic is provided. Overall, this research suggests that perceptions of work ethic and class status may operate together in determining attitudes. In studies 3 and 4, low- and high- SES targets were judged to have different degrees of positive and negative traits but were comparable when it came to consequential hiring decisions. This research sheds light on a need for more class research related to attribution theory and constructs related to work ethic, such as deservingness and perceived contribution to society.


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