Misperceptions of Relative Affluence and Support for International Redistribution

Forthcoming, Journal of Politics

51 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2016 Last revised: 25 Jul 2017

See all articles by Gautam Nair

Gautam Nair

Yale University, Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 24, 2017


Against a backdrop of vast income disparities across countries, this paper develops a theory of how misperceptions of individuals’ relative international income shape mass preferences for cross-national redistribution in the developed world. It tests this theory using a real-stakes experiment implemented on a nationally representative survey in the United States. I find that participants underestimate their percentile rank in the global income distribution by twenty-seven percentage points on average, and overestimate the global median income by a factor of ten. Respondents who were randomly assigned to information on the global income distribution supported higher spending on foreign aid and cuts in agricultural trade protections at larger rates. These respondents also made donations to charities abroad that were 55% larger relative to control group respondents. These findings contribute to our understanding of subjective perceptions, preferences for redistribution, and the conditions under which information can shape opinion and behavior.

Keywords: Inequality, Redistribution, Preferences, Subjective Perceptions

JEL Classification: D31, D63, D64, D83, F35, F50

Suggested Citation

Nair, Gautam, Misperceptions of Relative Affluence and Support for International Redistribution (March 24, 2017). Forthcoming, Journal of Politics, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2709203 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2709203

Gautam Nair (Contact Author)

Yale University, Department of Political Science ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

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