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  • Cited by 12
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: September 2009

18 - Deservingness, Entitlement, and Reactions to Outcomes


When we say that a person is entitled to some outcome, do we also mean that the person deserves that outcome? Can deservingness (or desert and deservedness – to use equivalent terms) be distinguished from entitlement? Or do both terms carry the same meaning? My aim in this chapter is to consider these questions and to describe a study whose results imply that it is important to distinguish between deservingness and entitlement. I will argue that judgments of deservingness involve reference to a person's actions and that they usually relate to positive or negative outcomes that are contingent on a person's positively or negatively valued behavior. Judgments of entitlement are more externally based, and they depend upon a formal or informal set of rules, laws, principles, expectations, or social norms that refer to or imply a person's rights. First, however, it is necessary to clear some semantic and conceptual ground.

Some Background Literature

I have provided examples from social psychology and legal theory of the ways in which entitlement and deservingness have been used in the literature on social justice in my recent book, Values, Achievement, and Justice: Studies in the Psychology of Deservingness (Feather, 1999b), as well as a conceptual analysis of the two concepts. I present here a summary of some of the main contributions, focusing on how the concepts of entitlement and deservingness have been discussed and incorporated into theory and research about social justice issues.