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
Date Written: 2016
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
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