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Social Mobility Attributions in East Asian and Pacific Cultures: Power Distance and Individualism as Moderators of Self-Attribution Bias

  • Melissa Lopez Reyes (a1)

Self-attribution bias operates in social mobility attributions, with positive circumstances triggering individualist attributions (attributed to one's merits) and negative circumstances triggering structural attributions (attributed to one's race, religion, sex, social connections). Analyses of East Asian and Pacific data of the International Social Survey Programme's Social Inequality Module show that perceived social inequality (PSI) leads to structural attributions, while high subjective social position (SSP) leads to individualist attributions. Cultural contexts, however, support or temper self-attribution bias, thus modifying the effects of PSI and SSP. Cross-level interactions show that the effect of PSI on structural attributions is larger in small power-distance countries, while the effect of SSP on individualist attributions is larger in countries with small power distance, high individualism, and low country average for SSP. That a small power distance strengthens the effects of PSI on structural attributions and of SSP on individualist attributions suggests contrasting scenarios, where disadvantaged groups devalue their competencies for mobility, while privileged groups believe themselves deserving of better outcomes. The context-dependency of the SSP effect suggests the modifiability of individualist attributions. These results help explain why mobility attribution profiles of Australia and New Zealand differ from those of China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Melissa Lopez Reyes, Department of Psychology, De La Salle University, 2401 Taft Avenue, Manila, 0922 Philippines. Email:
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