Economic Recessions and Congressional Preferences for Redistribution

29 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2016 Last revised: 17 Dec 2019

Date Written: December 17, 2019


We analyze the roots of politicians' preferences for redistribution by exploring whether early life experiences have persistent, long-run effects on U.S. Members of Congress' voting records. We study whether having experienced an economic recession during early adulthood affected their positions on redistribution-specific bills during the period 1957-2014. We find that politicians who experienced a recession hold more conservative positions on redistribution, even compared to members of the same party in the same legislature. We rule out alternative accounts and show that experiencing a recession directly affects future politicians' personal preferences. In light of recent empirical evidence showing that voters become more supportive of redistribution following a recession, our findings suggest that macroeconomic shocks have a polarizing effect: recessions can create an ideological wedge between voters and their future representatives. We present two pieces of evidence suggesting that this wedge can be explained by politicians' privileged background.

Keywords: Recession, Redistribution, Members of the U.S. Congress, Impressionable years, Elites

JEL Classification: D31, D63, P16, Z13

Suggested Citation

Carreri, Maria and Teso, Edoardo, Economic Recessions and Congressional Preferences for Redistribution (December 17, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Maria Carreri (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

Edoardo Teso

Northwestern University - Department of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences (MEDS) ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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