The Importance of: Fairness

Our character curriculum is centred on building four key character traits discussed in relation to human flourishing and success since the times of Classical Greek Philosophy: resilience, self-control, good judgement and fairness. Why do we focus on these traits? This series, called “The importance of”, explores the importance of each of these four traits.

Growing in fairness includes learning to treat others with respect and kindness, and growing to appreciate the importance of sharing, fighting for others, and being honest. This requires the ability to place ourselves in others’ shoes and feel compassion for other people.

Out of the character traits we focus on in Citywise, fairness falls least under the category of ‘performance’ character and most under the category of ‘moral’ character. Although the importance of fairness goes beyond this, developing fairness necessarily develops the desire to act towards the greater good of those around us, and contribute to a society that is better to live in.

Fairness and well-being

Interestingly, research shows that growing in fairness and thinking about others leads to higher personal well-being. Being fair-minded helps us develop mutually supportive relationships with those around us. Beginning in infancy, we learn the value of reciprocity, and taking turns in ‘serve and response’ patterns with our caregivers. This understanding, of relationships being based on both ‘giving’ and ‘getting’ or being cared for and caring for the other, is crucial in developing good relationships. Why is this important for our well-being? A nearly 80-year longitudinal study from Harvard confirms what personal experience may suggest, that the number one factor that promotes our happiness and well-being is having good relationships.

Research has also found that showing fairness and being generous is intrinsically rewarding. Children as young as 3 years old understand that sharing can make a person happy (Paulus & Moore, 2017). As social animals, our happiness is closely tied to the happiness of the people around us. Being a source of joy for the people around us can also increase our sense of purpose, which is equally important in promoting our well-being (Gillham et al., 2011).

Fairness and achievement

Fairness also supports a positive classroom environment, which predicts personal as well as academic flourishing. Pupils are much more likely to try out new skills, be motivated and earn better grades in an environment where they feel supported and can expect to be fairly assessed for their hard work (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014). Fairness is further important in equal divisions of work in group assignments and performing tasks with others, which Gregory Walton and his colleagues (2011) found to be academically motivating.

Research has also found that being a fair person, not just being in a fair environment, has a positive effect on our academic achievement. For example, a study of Italian schoolchildren (Caprara et al., 2000) found that demonstrating fair and prosocial behaviour at age 9 was a better predictor of grades at age 14 than were their grades at age 9. This is thought to be ‘mediated’ by wellbeing, which means that the effect might happen because fairness increases wellbeing. Specifically, this might occur because developing fair and mutually supportive relationships supports positive development and motivation, which promote academic achievement, and reduces vulnerability to depression and anti-social conduct, which are academically undermining.


Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2000). Prosocial foundations of children’s academic achievement. Psychological science11(4), 302-306.

Dweck, C., Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2014). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Seattle, WA: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from:

Gillham, J., Adams-Deutsch, Z., Werner, J., Reivich, K., Coulter-Heindl, V., Linkins, M., … & Contero, A. (2011). Character strengths predict subjective well-being during adolescence. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(1), 31-44.

Paulus, M., & Moore, C. (2017). Preschoolers’ generosity increases with understanding of the affective benefits of sharing. Developmental science20(3).

Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science331(6023), 1447-1451.