Differentiating views of inheritance: The free association task as a method to assess social representations of wealth, inherit, and bequeath

Jennifer Stark, C. Kogler, Helmut Gaisbauer, Clemens Sedmak, Erich Kirchler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Inheritance and in particular inheritance taxes have emerged as topics of steadily increasing interest in public as well as scientific discourse and debate. The present study investigates laypeople’s differentiated social representations of inheritance with the aim of shedding light on distinct concepts of wealth, inherit, and bequeath. Furthermore, it comparatively discusses experts’ scientific discourse on inheritance and laypeople’s social representations of inheritance, with the aim to contribute to a clearer understanding of the roots of the conflictual dispute on inheritance tax. Overall, 75 Austrian taxpayers completed a free association task. Participants were asked to indicate their spontaneous associations with the stimuli wealth, inherit, and bequeath, and to evaluate their associations as positive, neutral, or negative. Polarity and neutrality indices were calculated to capture participants’ attitudes towards the stimuli. Lexicographical analyses as well as correspondence analyses were performed to map the social representations of the stimuli. The results show that the evaluations of the stimuli differ significantly. Furthermore, the semantic content of the social representations differs. Moreover, the comparative discussion of experts’ representations of inheritance, as revealed in the analyses of their scientific discourse, and laypeople’s social representations of inheritance shows that the core issues of the social representations of laypeople and the representations of experts differ not only in respect to their level of abstractness but also in their point of reference and in their content. Interestingly, taxation is a core issue for laypeople as well as experts. Hence, this study indicates that a differentiated use of the term inheritance is necessary in regard to reforms of legal regulations of inheritance and inheritance taxes as well as in research referring to inheritance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-111
JournalReview of Behavioral Economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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