Income Inequality Influences Perceptions of Legitimate Income Differences
Harvard University - Department of Government
September 12, 2014
This paper argues that public opinion regarding the legitimacy of income differences is influenced by actual income inequality. When income differences are (perceived to be) high, the public thinks of larger income inequality as legitimate. The phenomenon is explained by the system justification motivation and other psychological processes that advantage and legitimate existing social arrangements. This is demonstrated in three experiments, which show that personal experiences of inequality as well as information regarding national-level income inequality can affect which income differences are thought of as legitimate. A fourth experiment shows that the system justification motivation is a cause of this effect. The results can help us explain the empirical puzzle of why higher income inequality across time and space does not systematically result in higher dissatisfaction with inequality.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 43
Keywords: Inequality, Redistribution, Public Opinion, Status quo bias, System Justificationworking papers series
Date posted: September 11, 2013 ; Last revised: September 13, 2014
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