Political Ideals and Beliefs About the Distribution of Wealth and Income: A Cross-Cultural Survey of University Students

International Society of Political Psychology 22nd Annual Meeting, 1999

18 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2013 Last revised: 16 Mar 2013

See all articles by Todd Davies

Todd Davies

Stanford University - Symbolic Systems Program; Center for the Study of Language and Information

Date Written: July 20, 1999

Abstract

A survey of comparable groups of undergraduates at Stanford University (USA) in 1996 and 1998, and at Koc University (Turkey) in 1998, reveals some interesting beliefs concerning the distribution of wealth and income. When asked to specify both ideal and real percentage distributions, respondents at the two universities indicate that both income and wealth are much more concentrated in their respective countries than they should be. However, respondents in both countries show virtually no awareness of the difference between wealth and income distributions, leading them to underestimate wealth disparities and to overestimate income disparities. Knowledge of the true distributions, and beliefs about the ideal ones, were found to have some relationships to political ideology for students who described themselves as 'socialists' or 'egalitarians,' but not for students with more mainstream affiliations. Koc students were found to be more egalitarian in their ideal distributions than were Stanford students, who showed weak signs of increasing their tolerance for inequality in the more recent survey. Some possible explanations for students' ignorance of the gap between income and wealth distributions are discussed and evaluated. Evidence suggests that unbiased estimates of economic statistics depend on available data from one's experience, even when reasoning alone could be the basis for a good guess. For various reasons, the wealth/income distribution gap is not easy to see, at least in these two countries. A general awareness of this gap (and of mechanisms that tend to concentrate wealth) might increase popular support for wealth taxes.

Keywords: inequality, wealth, income, distributive justice, fairness, political psychology, political cognition

JEL Classification: A13, D31, D63, D83, P00

Suggested Citation

Davies, Todd R., Political Ideals and Beliefs About the Distribution of Wealth and Income: A Cross-Cultural Survey of University Students (July 20, 1999). International Society of Political Psychology 22nd Annual Meeting, 1999. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2213117 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2213117

Todd R. Davies (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Symbolic Systems Program ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-2150
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.stanford.edu/~davies

Center for the Study of Language and Information ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-4115
United States

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