Poverty Games, Part 5: Inequality Monopoly

Some of my sociologist friends turned me onto a common game they use in their field to teach about social class and inequality: Inequality Monopoly (also called Modified Monopoly, Development Monopoly, or Stratified Monopoly).

The basic idea is to have students play a classic game of Monopoly (8 students to a board, multiple boards as needed) but with a twist: starting resources, salary, jail, and other effects of the game change based on which ‘social class’ you are randomly assigned at the beginning. So the upper class player may start with $2500 and a couple of hotels they can place on the first property they land on, while the middle class starts with $1500 and a house, the working class $1000 and lower class $500.  Salaries change too; only the upper class gets the full $200 for passing Go.  You can also put limits on who can purchase utilities or railroads, make it easier for the wealthy to get of jail quickly, and institute a lottery system that costs 5 or 10% of your income to play.

You can also speed up the game by simply distributing property in advance; some of the rule sets below have ideas on ways to do this.

My colleagues who use this game find it a very effective way to dig into problems of poverty, social class, income inequality, and the challenges of ‘equality of opportunity’. I haven’t tried it myself, but its worth importing to our field and seeing what happens.

Resources to Play the Game:

  • The best resource available is this cite: Fisher, E.M. (July 2008). USA Stratified Monopoly: A Simulation Game about Social Class Stratification. Teaching Sociology 36(3): 272-282.

That article contains everything you need–learning objectives, instructions for the instructor, a great rules chart for each player, timeline (broken down for classes of 50, 70, and 100 minutes), discussion questions, related written assignments, and assessment.

  • This document is a great resource that’s easy accessible.  It has a set of rules, instructors for the instructor, worksheets for the students, debriefing questions and essay questions.
  • Here’s another document with very similar rules.
  • This is a wonderful set of powerpoint slides that detail several different rule sets, have notes on important concepts, and discussion questions.
  • Richard Harvey at Saint Louis University comments here on the rule set he uses and his assessment of the game.
  • Here is an interesting piece on the use of Monopoly to study institutionalized racism.
  • This video made the social media rounds a month or two ago, and is about a series of studies on the unethical behavior of the rich.  One study involved a game of monopoly with ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ players–poor players getting half the starting money, half the Go salary, and only getting to use one die (thus not being able to roll doubles and take an extra turn)–and showed that the randomly determined rich players at the end of the game believed that they deserved to win the game due to good gameplay–not luck of the draw.

See earlier entries in the Poverty Games series:

Poverty Games Pt 1: Ayiti the Cost of Life

Poverty Games Pt 2: Third World Farmer

Poverty Games Pt 3: Free Rice

Poverty Games Pt 4: Spent