[Correction Notice: An Erratum for this article was reported in Vol 119(6) of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (see record 2021-01144-001). In the article, in the Independent variables subsection of Experiment 6, the second paragraph is duplicated here in error. The correct location appears as the fourth paragraph of this subsection. All versions of this article have been corrected.]
Invisibility makes privilege powerful. Especially when it remains unexposed, privilege perpetuates inequity by giving unearned advantages to certain groups over others. However, recent social movements (e.g., Occupy) attempt to expose class-based privilege, threatening its invisibility. Across eight experiments, we show that beneficiaries of class privilege respond to such exposure by increasing their claims of personal hardships and hard work, to cover privilege in a veneer of meritocracy. Experiments 1a–c show that when people are provided evidence of their own class privilege, they claim to have suffered more personal life hardships. Experiment 2 suggests that these claims are driven in part by threats to self-regard. Experiment 3 finds that such self-defense is motivated specifically by a desire to attribute positive outcomes to the self (i.e., sense of personal merit). When given the chance to first bolster their sense of personal merit, those benefiting from privilege no longer claim hardships in response to evidence of privilege. Experiments 4 and 5 further suggest self-concerns are at play: only self-relevant privilege evokes defensive responses, and self-affirmation reduces hardship claims more than does system-affirmation. Finally, Experiment 6 suggests that people claim hardships because they believe these imply personal merit on their part. Preventing the privileged from claiming hardship leads them to claim increased effort in the workplace and to increase effort on a difficult task. Overall, results suggest that even when those benefiting from class privileges are confronted with evidence of their “invisible knapsack,” ideologies of personal merit help them cover the privileges of class once again.