Monopoly in the Classroom

Economics’ professors modify Monopoly rules to demonstrate real-life disparities

By BoNhia Lee

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Take a ride on the Reading Railroad. Advance to Boardwalk. If you pass “Go,” collect $610 — or $70 —depending on what player type you’ve drawn.

In this version of Monopoly, each person is assigned a type of player, subject to specific rules based on wealth. The cash distributed at the start of the game ranges from $2,625 to $900, depending on type. It’s no longer an equal amount per player.

Ready? Let’s play!

In the University Student Union, Dr. Nancy Van Leuven’s media stereotypes class sets up Monopoly game boards with the familiar top hat, dog, thimble and racecar tokens along with the colorful paper money.

Van Leuven, assistant professor of public relations in the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism at Fresno State, uses the modified Monopoly game to teach about power and class instead of lecturing for almost an hour. But the credit for adapting the classic American board game into more than just entertainment goes to two economics professors in the Craig School of Business at Fresno State.

Drs. Kevin Capehart and Va Nee Van Vleck modified the rules of Monopoly to teach inequality in their classes. In 2018, the professors wrote a paper published in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economic Education about their version of the game and whether it affects students’ perceptions or attitudes toward inequality.

“Misconceptions about disparities in income and wealth are pervasive, so one important and seemingly easy task would be to teach students about the extent of those disparities, which are reaching heights not seen since the beginning of the 20th century,” they wrote.

The game is modified to make opportunities between players less equal. Gone is the endowment of $1,500 per player at the start of the game and the $200 reward for passing “Go.” Those amounts are now distributed by player type, which is linked to income inequalities and wealth in the United States. The player with the least amount of money is the banker.

Unlike the original version, players can go into debt, and they can borrow cash from each other but at an interest rate of 10% for the wealthiest player to 40% for the poorest. The player who starts the game with the most money is always the first to take a turn, to select tokens and to be repaid.

The goal remains the same: to become the wealthiest player.

“If you go first, you have more money, more power than anyone else and people in the lower end will never catch up,” Van Leuven says. “So, no matter how the person on the lower end plays, they will never catch up and the students playing are super upset about it … they’re super upset that (wealth) is a determined factor because they think if you work hard enough then you will succeed, and that’s not necessarily true.”

Senior Ef Rain, a viticulture major from Santa Maria, is a competitive Monopoly player assigned player “Type 2” in class. He received $2,025 at the start of the game. His reward for passing “Go” is $180 while his classmate, assigned player “Type 1,” collects $610 for passing ”Go.” Players three and four only collect $110 and $70, respectively.

“We have to accept it,” Rain says. “It makes us feel like we are playing the way it is in real life.”

Transfer student Johnny Lopez, a child development major from Fresno, played catch up the entire game as a “Type 4” player — the poorest — but he still made over $1,000 by the end.

“I had to negotiate,” Lopez says with a smile, “or maybe it was a little bit of luck.”

The economics professors found that while the attitudes of students who played modified Monopoly were not dramatically affected, many “saw larger improvements in their objective perceptions of the actual extent of income and wealth inequality and, also, bigger changes in their subjective attitudes about the importance of inheritance, luck and hard work to real-world success,” their paper says.

Van Leuven can’t imagine a better way to teach about societal issues, which she broadens to include poverty, privilege, race, gender and ethnicity. Many students enter the class with strong preconceived stereotypes about themselves or others, she says. “Monopoly becomes one of the top activities of class because it puts it all out there.”

Whether students end the game bankrupt or owning properties, houses and hotels all over the board, they walk away with new perspectives on what it takes to be successful.

— BoNhia Lee is a writer in University Communications at Fresno State


“Misconceptions about disparities in income
and wealth are pervasive, so one important and
seemingly easy task would be to teach students
about the extent of those disparities, which are
reaching heights not seen since the beginning
of the 20th century.”

Fresno State faculty