The belief that in life people get what they deserve is widespread. Believing that the world is a just place enables people to tolerate and cope with injustices experienced by themselves and others. Such a belief can rationalize an acceptance for social inequality, lack of access to health care, poverty, and the mistreatment of others by the system. Holding a view of the world as just or unjust can also lead to social activism and motivate people to take action, as the recent “Black Lives Matter” movement has done in the United States. It is possible that believing that the world is fair and just will likely lead to less anxiety and greater life satisfaction.
1.1. Just World Beliefs
Belief in a just world (BJW) is predicated on the idea that the world is a just place and that people get what they deserve. This belief can also serve to rationalize perceived injustices [1
]. People rely on the comfort of the belief in a “just world” and understand their own and others’ experiences accordingly. There are, however, personal and social implications associated with such a view. Correia and Dalbert [3
] discussed three primary functions of just-world beliefs: they (a) influence members of a society to act fairly believing that they, in turn, will be also be treated fairly; (b) promote greater social trust and cohesion; and, (c) provide a way to assign meaning to one’s life circumstances. The world can be understood as “just” for oneself (BJW-self) or others (BJW-others). BJW-self is associated with greater well-being, and BJW-others is associated with social and cultural connections [4
]. BJW-others has been found to have a negative association with altruistic behavior, and BJW-self is correlated positively with altruistic behavior [5
]. Bartholomaeus and Strelan [6
] found BJW-self to be positively correlated to forgiveness.
In the last decade, two other justice beliefs have been added to beliefs about self and others: distributive and procedural justice [1
]. Distributive justice beliefs concern evaluating the fairness of outcomes, allocations, and distribution of resources, and procedural justice concerns evaluating the fairness of decision processes, rules, and interpersonal treatment [1
]. Lucas et al. [7
] indicated that support for policies that restrict immigrants is exclusively associated with belief in distributive justice for others (i.e., thoughts about fair outcomes for other people). More specifically, the tendency to believe in distributive justice for others was found to be associated with greater support for a policy proposing to further restrict immigrant job seekers’ capacity in the United States. Moreover, priming thoughts about justice in a sample of U.S. police officers increased their support for a policy that mandated stricter policing of illegal immigration. A strong belief in distributive justice for others appears to lead to potentially greater support for discriminatory policies.
Belief in a just world can also lead to a culture of victim-blaming. Stronger beliefs in a just world have been found to be associated with viewing social inequality, prejudice, and poverty as deserving or as a result of a lack of hard work or effort [8
]. Rationalizing that people, in general, deserve what they get reinforces the belief that the “world”, in general, treats people justly [9
]. Such rationalization has widespread consequences; for example, it can affect how people view those with disabilities or disorders. Rüsch et al. [10
] found that such beliefs may enable people to hold prejudices and stigmatize those with disabilities. Such views can also foster prejudice against those who are victimized and oppressed—that they somehow “got what they deserved”. Studies have identified five independent sources to which people ascribe arbitration of justice in a just world: God, nature, other people, self, and chance. These sources are generally construed as responsible for allocating justice and for shaping perceptions and responses in the face of unjust events [11
]. A person might rationalize that the “unjust” treatment being received is somehow deserved.
Religion, or spirituality, is also associated with viewing the world as a just place. Jost et al. [12
] found that “religion provides an ideological justification for the existing social order, so that prevailing institutions and arrangements are perceived as legitimate and impartial, and therefore worthy of obeying and preserving” (p. 1). They found that religion often serves the epistemic (achieving predictability and control), existential (managing anxiety, fear, and threat), and relational (affiliating with others and group solidarity) needs of a population. Those with high religiosity might, therefore, be less open-minded, less tolerant of ambiguity, and have a higher need for control. Religiosity may, therefore, be associated with higher belief in a just world by providing a comforting, stress-reducing function, and making people feel more satisfied and/or tolerant of injustices. Reviewing the work of Marx [13
], Jost et al. noted that church attendance and religious convictions blunted “support for civil rights” despite the efforts of Martin Luther King (p. 21); their results suggested religiosity is positively correlated with system justifying, rather than system challenging, views.
Personal demographic factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and age may also be related to the view that the world is a just place. Hunt [14
], comparing African Americans, Latinos, and Whites, found that Latinos indicated the strongest beliefs in a just world, and African Americans the weakest. More importantly, significant differences were also found by sex and socio-economic status (SES), with the greatest support for just world beliefs found among men and those with low SES. Hunt, however, noted that the effect of being Latino was reduced to about half (although still significant) when SES was included in the regression model, suggesting that the variance associated with being Latino was largely due to SES, i.e., “the inverse effect of SES among Latinos appears to be disproportionately a function of relative support for the idea of a just world among lower-status Latinos” (p. 338). In contrast, “the inverse effect of SES among Blacks is due more to the higher-status class blacks rejecting the belief in a just world than to lower class viewing the system as legitimate” (p. 338). The finding concerning the inverse relationship between SES and justice beliefs led Hunt to suggest that just world beliefs may help some people adapt to difficult social and economic living circumstances.
1.2. Life Satisfaction/Subjective Well-Being
Life satisfaction is an essential component of overall well-being. It focuses on the way people evaluate their lives and how they feel about their opportunities for the future [15
]. Gaining an understanding of life satisfaction involves continuous assessment of how individuals view their lives as a whole, rather than focusing on current attitudes and feelings. Life satisfaction is determined by the intersection of multiple influences including income, education, health, relationships, stress, neighborhood, community, and culture [16
Well-being (SWB) is a multidimensional construct, influenced by personal, social, and cultural factors [16
]. Health and social relationships have beneficial effects on SWB, and interventions can facilitate SWB. Studies have also identified a positive relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction [17
]. Some research suggests that religious people are more satisfied with their lives because of the relationships between religious attendance and community. Kahneman and Deaton [18
], in an analysis of more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and its relationship with income, found that income and education were connected to emotional well-being (emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience) and life evaluation (thoughts people have about their life when they think about it). Income and education were more closely related to life evaluation, with emotional well-being rising with income to a certain point, beyond an annual income of USD ≈75,000 [19
A global study by Morrison, Tay, and Diener [21
] found that national satisfaction was a positive predictor of life satisfaction, with the relationship moderated by household income, household conveniences (e.g., appliances), residential mobility, country GDP per capita, and region (Western vs. non-Western country). National satisfaction was also related to greater life satisfaction. The results indicate that in more individualistic, well-off societies, people tend to rely more on factors such as personal health, social support, and living conditions in judging life satisfaction. In more collectivist cultures, on the other hand, people rely more on social conditions as a measure of life satisfaction. Gerstorf et al. [22
] examined the role of age, social orientation, and social engagement with life satisfaction. They relied upon social variables at the behavioral level (self-ratings of social participation) and the motivational level (valuing social and family goals). The researchers applied single and multiphase growth models on 27-year annual longitudinal data from 2910 deceased participants of the nationwide German Socio-Economic Panel Study. Their results suggest that leading a socially active life and prioritizing social goals in late life were associated with higher late-life well-being, less pronounced late-life decline in life satisfaction, and later onset of terminal decline in physical health.
1.3. The Relationship between Just World Beliefs and Life Satisfaction
Lucas et al. [23
] discussed just world beliefs and its’ relationships with various aspects of life including, but not limited to, income, health, and family, and life satisfaction, stressing that it is important to examine satisfaction in various life domains, an approach known as the bottom-up theory [24
]. The bottom-up theory in relation to just-world beliefs suggests that people are more likely to support the notion of a just world when they are satisfied in various life domains. Lucas et al. [23
] suggested that the tendency to believe in the prevalence of justice is associated with personal happiness and well-being. They found individual-level beliefs in justice for both self and for others to be more strongly associated with life satisfaction and health when people expressed strong beliefs in justice for others. Higher levels of individual-level beliefs in distributive justice were more strongly associated with self-rated health in high distributive justice climates and in low procedural justice climates. These cross-level interactions suggest that higher-order justice climates may moderate the relationships between individual-level justice beliefs and personal well-being.
Lucas et al. [2
] found the two self-justice subscales to be more strongly correlated with life satisfaction than the two other subscales. They also found the two self-justice subscales, but not the two other subscales, were predictive of life satisfaction in a multiple regression analysis. These results were replicated in cross-cultural studies. Across all four cultures, the correlations of BJW subscales with life satisfaction were somewhat higher for the two self-subscales than the two other subscales. When life satisfaction was regressed on the four BJW subscales, the analyses revealed distributive justice for self (DJ-self) was significantly predictive of life satisfaction in all four cultures, but procedural justice for self (PJ-self) was predictive only in Canada and China. The two other scales were not predictive of life satisfaction in any of the four cultures. The results suggest that justice for self with its emphasis on personal identity and pro-self-values may relate to well-being. Whether or not age shapes views of the world as a just place is an important area of investigation. Age certainly has been shown to influence personal and social views shaping life satisfaction [25
The studies cited above support a relationship between views of the world as a just place with well-being and life satisfaction. This study explored this connection with a further analysis of views of the world as a just place for oneself and for others both distributively and procedurally. The study also explored the relationships between just world beliefs, life satisfaction, and demographic factors including White/non-White racial identity, age, self-reported social class, gender, and religious affiliation. Based on a review of literature, it would appear that individuals from a self-perceived higher social class were more likely to view the world as a just place for the self and for others on both distributive and procedural beliefs. The study also explored attitudes regarding religion and spirituality, as well as just world views and life satisfaction.