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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

EASP Seedcorn Grant Report

02.02.2024, by Media Account in grant report

By Roberta Rosa Valtorta

Roberta Rosa Valtorta
Roberta Rosa Valtorta

More inequality, more violence acceptance?
Investigating the link between economic inequality and tolerance of gender-based violence

Roberta Rosa Valtorta
University of Milano-Bicocca

Theoretical background

Economic inequality is increasing in most regions of the world (Oxfam, 2021). Negative outcomes of greater income inequality include lower well-being and higher mortality rates (Rufrancos et al., 2013; Wilkinson & Pickett, 2017). A recent line of research has focused on the link between economic inequality and self-sexualisation among women (i.e., the tendency to publicly express behaviours typical of soft-core pornography, such as wearing sexy, revealing clothing; see Blake & Brooks, 2019a). Blake and colleagues (2018; Blake & Brooks, 2019b) drew attention to the role that income inequality may play in sexualisation at the individual level and found that areas with poorer and unemployed women have more sexy selfie posts on social media in the United States. Crucially, they experimentally demonstrated that manipulating income inequality in a role-playing task indirectly increases women’s intentions to wear revealing clothing and that it does so by increasing women’s anxiety about their place in the social hierarchy. These results are particularly alarming since many studies have verified the link between self-sexualisation and tolerance of sexual harassment (Choi & DeLong, 2019). Indeed, women who internalise the belief that sexual attractiveness is a crucial aspect of their identity are more likely to tolerate sexual assault, accept the degradation of women through jokes, and hold rape myth values (Ryan & Kanjorski, 1998).

As far as I know, no previous research has investigated the link between economic inequality and tolerance of gender-based violence. Thus, I combined all the aspects mentioned above to verify this association and examined the role of status anxiety (i.e., the worry about how much one is “worth” in the eyes of others, in relative terms; Delhey et al., 2017), self-sexualisation, and enjoyment of sexualisation (i.e., the extent to which one enjoys sexualised and appearance-based attention; Liss et al., 2011).

Original goals

The main goal of the present project was to explore whether higher economic inequality is associated with greater tolerance of gender-based violence through increased status anxiety, self-sexualisation, and enjoyment of sexualisation among low-income women. To do so, I planned to conduct three studies (one correlational and two experimental). Since I managed to run all the studies through Prolific Academic, I employed the grant to pay all the participants involved in the project (see below).

The current project

Through the EASP Seedcorn grant, I was able to run three studies by collecting data on Prolific Academic. All data and materials are available on the Open Science Framework ( In the first correlational study (N = 300 heterosexual, Italian women; Mage = 31.58, SD = 10.33; age range: 20-66), I found that women who perceived more economic inequality at the national level also reported more status anxiety, self-sexualisation, enjoyment of sexualisation, and tolerance of gender-based violence. It is noteworthy that the positive link between perceived economic inequality and acceptance of gender violence was true for the dimensions of the scale concerning the minimization of male behaviours (i.e., “He didn’t mean to” and “It wasn’t really rape”) but not for those regarding woman blaming (i.e., “She asked for it” and “She lied”). A similar pattern of results emerged for the participants who placed themselves on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

In the second study (N = 218 heterosexual, Italian women; Mage = 31.78, SD = 10.47; age range: 19-72), I replicated the findings described above by experimentally manipulating economic inequality and socio-economic status with the Bimboola paradigm (see Jetten et al., 2015; Salvador Casara et al., 2023). Through an experimental design with four conditions—2 (inequality: low vs. high) × 2 (status: low vs. high)—I found that women in the high-inequality and low-status condition reported more status anxiety, self-sexualisation, enjoyment of sexualisation, and tolerance of gender-based violence. The indirect link between the experimental condition and tolerance of gender-based violence via status anxiety, self-sexualisation, and enjoyment of sexualisation was tested and confirmed by using PROCESS macro (Model 6) for SPSS (Hayes, 2018).

The data collected for the third study (N = 211 heterosexual, Italian women; Mage = 33.17, SD = 10.74; age range: 20-67) further confirmed these results by demonstrating that women in the high-inequality and low-status condition reported more implicit positive attitudes toward gender-based violence measured through the Gender Violence Implicit Association Test (GV-IAT; see Eckhardt et al., 2012; Ferrer-Perez et al., 2020).

Contribution to wider research activities

The studies conducted through the EASP Seedcorn grant enrich the sociopsychological literature on economic inequality and gender-based violence. Also, this project contributed to the development of new studies aiming to increase the generalisability of the tested associations in different countries. Overall, the EASP Seedcorn grant allowed me to take the first step into the investigation of the detrimental impact of economic inequality on attitudes toward gender violence. Understanding the processes behind tolerance of sexual harassment or assault and the profound consequences of economic differences on women’s well-being is necessary to promote equality and shed light on the ecological conditions that perpetuate this controversial cultural trend.


Blake, K. R., Bastian, B., Denson, T. F., Grosjean, P., & Brooks, R. C. (2018). Income inequality not gender inequality positively covaries with female sexualization on social media. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, 8722-8727.
Blake, K. R., & Brooks, R. C. (2019a). Income inequality and reproductive competition: Implications for consumption, status-seeking, and women’s self-sexualization. In J. Jetten & K. Peters (Eds.), The social psychology of inequality (pp. 173-185). Springer: Cham.
Blake, K. R., & Brooks, R. C. (2019b). Status anxiety mediates the positive relationship between income inequality and sexualization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116, 25029-25033.
Choi, D., & DeLong, M. (2019). Defining female self sexualization for the twenty-first century. Sexuality & Culture, 23, 1350-1371.
Delhey, J., Schneickert, C., & Steckermeier, L. C. (2017). Sociocultural inequalities and status anxiety: Redirecting the spirit level theory. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 58, 215-240.
Eckhardt, C. I., Samper, R., Suhr, L., & Holtzworth-Munroe, A. (2012). Implicit attitudes toward violence among male perpetrators of intimate partner violence: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27, 471-491.
Ferrer-Perez, V. A., Bosch-Fiol, E., Ferreiro-Basurto, V., Delgado-Alvarez, C., & Sánchez-Prada, A. (2020). Comparing implicit and explicit attitudes toward intimate partner violence against women. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, Article 2147.
Hayes, A. F. (2018). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis. (2nd ed.). NY: The Guilford Press.
Jetten, J., Mols, F., & Postmes, T. (2015). Relative deprivation and relative wealth enhances anti immigrant sentiments: The v-curve re-examined. PLoS One, 10, Article e0139156.
Liss, M., Erchull, M. J., & Ramsey, L. R. (2011). Empowering or oppressing? Development and exploration of the Enjoyment of Sexualization Scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 55-68.
Oxfam (2021). Inequality kills. Oxford: Oxfam.
Rufrancos, H., Power, M., Pickett, K. E., & Wilkinson, R. (2013). Income inequality and crime: A review and explanation of the time-series evidence. Sociology and Criminology, 1, 103-111.
Ryan, K. M., & Kanjorski, J. (1998). The enjoyment of sexist humor, rape attitudes, and relationship aggression in college students. Sex Roles, 38, 743-756.
Salvador Casara, B. G., Filippi, S., Suitner, C., Dollani, E., & Maass, A. (2023). Tax the élites! The role of economic inequality and conspiracy beliefs on attitudes towards taxes and redistribution intentions. British Journal of Social Psychology, 62, 104-118.
Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. E. (2017). The enemy between us: The psychological and social costs of inequality. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 11-24.