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Relative Deprivation Theory

Relative deprivation theory originated from Samuel Stouffer and colleagues’ (1949) classic sociological work The American Soldier. Stouffer and his coauthors found, to their surprise, that American soldiers in high-status units reported being less satisfied with their situation, despite their more promising career opportunities, than American soldiers in low-status units. This was because these soldiers compared themselves with others within their unit, thus not realizing the difference between groups that the researchers, from the outside, did see and based their expectations on. People may therefore feel worse off than others, independent of whether they are in objectively better or worse circumstances.

This already signals that, as noted by Leon Festinger, social comparison is absolutely pivotal in understanding the notion of relative deprivation. Relative deprivation is not about ...

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