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The effect of education, income inequality and merit on inequality acceptance


  • Barr, Abigail
  • Miller, Luis


A large number of observational and experimental studies have explored the determinants of individual preferences for redistribution. In general, inequalities are more likely to be accepted by people of higher socioeconomic status, in richer societies and when inequalities are perceived as justifiable owing to differences in productivity. Almås et al. (2020) show that in a relatively unequal society (the United States), the highly educated accept inequality significantly more than the less educated, whereas, in a relatively equal society (Norway), the less educated accept inequality more, but not significantly more, than the highly educated. Here, we replicate this finding using data from experiments conducted in four locations across three countries all distinct from the ones studied by Almås et al. However, a closer look at the data indicates that the origin of the interaction effect varies depending on which societies one compares. Data for Norway and the United States indicate that meritocratic values among the highly educated are less prevalent in more equal societies and that this is the driver of the triple interaction effect. In contrast, in our data the interaction effects have multiple drivers.

Suggested Citation

  • Barr, Abigail & Miller, Luis, 2020. "The effect of education, income inequality and merit on inequality acceptance," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:80:y:2020:i:c:s0167487020300337
    DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2020.102276

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Margalit, Yotam, 2013. "Explaining Social Policy Preferences: Evidence from the Great Recession," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 80-103, February.
    2. Ingvild Almås & Alexander W. Cappelen & Bertil Tungodden, 2020. "Cutthroat Capitalism versus Cuddly Socialism: Are Americans More Meritocratic and Efficiency-Seeking than Scandinavians?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 128(5), pages 1753-1788.
    3. Norman Frohlich & Joe Oppenheimer & Anja Kurki, 2004. "Modeling Other-Regarding Preferences and an Experimental Test," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 119(1_2), pages 91-117, April.
    4. Todd L. Cherry & Peter Frykblom & Jason F. Shogren, 2002. "Hardnose the Dictator," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1218-1221, September.
    5. Demel, Simona & Barr, Abigail & Miller, Luis & Ubeda, Paloma, 2019. "Commitment to Political Ideology is a Luxury Only Students Can Afford: A Distributive Justice Experiment," Journal of Experimental Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 33-42, April.
    6. Jakiela, Pamela, 2015. "How fair shares compare: Experimental evidence from two cultures," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 40-54.
    7. James Konow, 2000. "Fair Shares: Accountability and Cognitive Dissonance in Allocation Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 1072-1091, September.
    8. Barr, Abigail & Burns, Justine & Miller, Luis & Shaw, Ingrid, 2015. "Economic status and acknowledgement of earned entitlement," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 55-68.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ziano, Ignazio & Lembregts, Christophe & Pandelaere, Mario, 2022. "People weigh salaries more than ratios in judgments of income inequality, fairness, and demands for redistribution," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 89(C).

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    More about this item


    Education; Lab-in-the-field experiments; Inequality; Redistribution;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making


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