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Equity Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Equity Theory

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

People are happiest in relationships where the give and take are about equal. If one person is getting too little from the relationship, then not only are they going to be unhappy with this—the person getting the lion’s share will also be feeling rather guilty about this imbalance. This is reinforced by strong social norms about fairness.

In short-term relationships we tend to trade in things, such as loaning small sums or buying beers. In longer-term relationships the trade is more emotional.

Overall, though, it is still better to be getting more than less—although you could feel better about the relationship, the benefits you get from it can buy you compensatory happiness elsewhere.

Equity Theory is also called Inequity Theory as it is the unequal difference that is often the area of interest.

Example

Men who have been pulled away from their family by their work sometimes try to even the scales with expensive holidays. This does not work well as they are trying to trade (short-term value) money for (long-term value) emotion.

So what?

Using it

If you are getting the short end of the stick in a relationship, use this to make the other person feel even more guilt than they already feel. Get them to focus on the value of the relationship itself rather than the more material things they are getting from it.

Defending

If you are getting what you want from a relationship, resist attempts to change the balance.

See also

Epistemological Weighting Hypothesis, Reciprocity Norm, Social Exchange Theory, Social Comparison Theory

http://www.cba.uri.edu/Scholl/Notes/Equity.html

References

Adams (1963), Adams (1965), Homans (1961), Walster, Walster and Berscheid (1978)

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