Fairness and the Principle of Cumulative Advantage

I would like to start with a short story this time. A middle-class family of seven brothers and three sisters were raised together in a 3 bedroom apartment. They were educated, yet, the lack of resources and the absence of good parenthood created ongoing interpersonal conflict between the siblings. The father wanted to let his eldest two boys to do their undergrad in a different country to pursue majors that were not available then in their homeland country. That created extra financial burdens on the family and led some of the younger siblings to think that their father favors the elder brothers. Many years after, the siblings built their own families, but the envy feeling inside them grew even more.  Whenever they faced a life obstacle, challenge or financial hardship, they blamed their father and their elder brothers for that. They perceived any academic or career achievement of their eldest brothers or even their children as cumulative advantage because of the preferential treatment and unfairness of the father. They thought the the elder brothers are richer and their children are more educated just because of they got the opportunity to study abroad while the other siblings didn’t get the same opportunity.

Fairness in its simplest definition is the perception of justice.  It correlates with the principle of the cumulative advantage. The stronger the enabling environment for cumulative advantage, the more inequality and unfairness we get, and eventually, we end up with a malfunctioning society. Although the siblings story is not necessarily about cumulative advantage, yet it illustrates the perception the people get when they feel that they were not treated equally at least within the same group.

A classical example of of cumulative advantage is when a teacher treats students differently. If the teacher gives some student more attention than the other students, those who are treated better tend to succeed more, get better grades and get more rewards. The more rewards they get, the better performers they are expected to be. The gap between them and those who were not treated equally will get bigger till they get a better social, financial status. You can apply this example to any context you want.


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