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Income Inequality Influences Perceptions of Legitimate Income Differences

British Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming

55 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2013 Last revised: 17 Feb 2016

Kris-Stella Trump

Harvard University - Department of Government

Date Written: 2016

Abstract

This article 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 existing social arrangements. Three experiments 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. These results can provide an empirical basis for future studies to assume that the public reacts to inequality with adapted expectations, not increased demands for redistribution.

Keywords: Inequality, Redistribution, Public Opinion, Status quo bias, System Justification

Suggested Citation

Trump, Kris-Stella, Income Inequality Influences Perceptions of Legitimate Income Differences (2016). British Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2324255 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2324255

Kris-Stella Trump (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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