When is a consumer choice not just a consumer choice?
Apparently when the shopper is a recipient of welfare, researchers have found. According to a recent study from the University of British Columbia, people on welfare who make ethical purchases, like organic food or hybrid cars, are judged as immoral for "taking advantage of public generosity."
"We discovered a double standard where people are judged differently for making identical choices, depending on where their money comes from," Darren Dahl, the study's author, said in a press release.
The series of five studies was designed to examine the relationship between two social values, making ethical consumer choices and thrift. The researchers asked more than 1,300 participants to judge people's morality based on their grocery lists and cars. They found that, while most people are judged to be virtuous when they make ethical purchases, people on welfare were "only praised when they're frugal."
The two reasons for this polarized opinion, according to the study, are price -- ethical goods usually cost more than conventional ones -- and "deservingness," the right to spend money however you want, which people tend to accord those who earn money but not those who receive government assistance.
"People on welfare tend to be seen as undeserving of more expensive options and of wasting taxpayers' hard-earned cash," Dahl said in the press release.
However, this perception doesn't stand up to the facts. The average SNAP food stamp benefit is only about $125 per month per person, as The Huffington Post has written. And the vast majority of welfare recipients aren't abusing "the system" to live large -- they're trying, really hard, to make ends meet.
According to a recent breakdown of expenditures by families receiving welfare, they spend a fraction of what regular families spend on basically everything -- half as much on housing, one-third less on food and less than one-fifth the amount on healthcare.
Clearly spending money on organic produce every now and then isn't indicative of lavish spending. And in any case, if a parent on welfare wants to feel good about the apples they give their kids -- as any of us do -- they should be free to do so without judgment.