Basic Social Justice Orientations Scale


The Basic Social Justice Orientations (BSJO) is a short scale to measure individuals’ support for equality, need, equity, and entitlement, which are four basic distributive principles in justice research (Hülle/Liebig/May 2017). After validation and use in several population surveys (LINOS-1, SOEP-IS 2012, ALLBUS 2014, ESS round nine), the module became part of the SOEP questionnaire program from 2019 onwards.

Theoretical Background

Starting as a equity theory (Adams 1963) the principles of justice were extended by a “multi-principle approach” in the mid-1970s, including equality and need (Deutsch 1975), and by the emphasis on entitlement (Miller 1976). These four principles of distributive justice form the four dimensions of the Basic Social Justice Orientations (BSJO) scale, which is used to analyze normative attitudes towards the resolution of distributive problems in society (Hülle/Liebig/May 2017). The dimension of equality implies a conception of justice according to which everyone receives an equal share of benefits and burdens. Within the 2nd dimension—equity—the distribution of benefits and burdens is considered equitable if these are linked to current individual contributions and efforts. The needs principle represents the 3rd dimension and corresponds to the idea of sharing benefits according to people’s individual needs. The 4th dimension is the principle of entitlement. According to this principle, ascriptive characteristics (such as social origin) or status characteristics acquired in the past (such as occupational status) form entitlements on the basis of which benefits and burdens are to be distributed.

Scale Development

Pretests in LINOS-1, SOEP-IS 2012 and for the main survey of ALLBUS 2014 not only verified the validity of the items, they also reduced the number of items from 12 to 8 by using the criterion of factorial validity, so that each dimension was then covered by 2 items (Hülle/Liebig/May 2017). In ALLBUS 2014 two items (“It is just if all people have the same living conditions” and “It is just if income and wealth are equally distributed among the members of our society”) measured equality, two items (“A society is just if it takes care of those who are poor and needy” and “It is just if people taking care of their children or their dependent relatives receive special support and benefits”) measured need, two items (“It is just if hard working people earn more than others” and “It is just if every person receives only that which has been acquired through their own efforts”) measured equity, and two items (“It is just if members of respectable families have certain advantages in their lives” and “It is fair if people on a higher level of society have better living conditions than those on the lower level”) measured entitlement (Sauer et al. 2014). For the European Social Survey round nine (2018/2019) previous results of the BSJO scale were used to develop and include a four-item-version with one item per dimension (Adriaans et al. 2020). In 2019, the SOEP included the ultra-brief version of with the plan to replicate them every 5 years in the questionnaire program. However, a focus module on perceptions of inequality was conducted in the SOEP 2021 (Adriaans et al. 2021). The BSJO scale was repeated in 2021 as a complement to the content of this module.


Adams, J. S. (1963). Towards an understanding of inequity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(5), 422–436.

Adriaans, J., Bohmann, S., Targa, M., Liebig, S., Hinz, T., Jasso, G., … & Sabbagh, C. (2020). Justice and fairness in europe: Topline results from round 9 of the european social survey.

Adriaans, J., Griese, F., Auspurg, K., Bledow, N., Bohmann, S., Busemeyer, M. R., … & Verwiebe, R. (2021). Dokumentation zum Entwicklungsprozess des Moduls” Einstellungen zu sozialer Ungleichheit” im SOEP (v38) (No. 1071). SOEP Survey Papers.

Deutsch, M. (1975). Equity, equality, and need: What determines which value will be used as the basis of distributive justice? Journal of Social Issues, 31(3), 137–149.

Hülle, S., Liebig, S., & May, M. J. (2018). Measuring attitudes toward distributive justice: The basic social justice orientations scale. Social Indicators Research, 136(2), 663-692.

Miller, D. (1976). Social justice. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Valet, P., May, M., Sauer, C., & Liebig, S. (2014). LINOS-1: Legitimation of inequality over the life-span.


People have different ideas about what makes a society just. What’s your opinion about the following statements? (Es gibt unterschiedliche Vorstellungen darüber, wann eine Gesellschaft gerecht ist. Wie ist Ihre persönliche Meinung zu den folgenden Aussagen?)

  1. A society is just when people who work hard earn more than others / Es ist gerecht, wenn Personen, die hart arbeiten, mehr verdienen als andere (Equity)

  2. A society is just when people from respected families have advantages in life / Es ist gerecht, wenn Personen, die aus angesehenen Familien stammen, dadurch Vorteile im Leben haben (Entitlement)

  3. A society is just when it takes care of the weak and needy / Eine Gesellschaft ist gerecht, wenn sie sich um die Schwachen und Hilfsbedürftigen kümmert (Need)

  4. A society is just when the income and wealth in society are equally distributed among all people. / Es ist gerecht, wenn Einkommen und Vermögen in unserer Gesellschaft an alle Personen gleich verteilt warden. (Equality)

Scale: 1 (Disagree completely / Stimme überhaupt nicht zu) to 7 (Agree completely / Stimme voll zu)

Items and Scale Statistics