GINI DP 20: Does Income Inequality Negatively Affect General Trust? Examining three potential problems with the inequality-trust hypothesis
Many studies on the consequences of income inequality find that where inequality is high, trust is low. There are, however, reasons to examine the relation between inequality and trust more closely. First, previous research does not differentiate between the effect of income inequality and that of national wealth. Furthermore, the underlying mechanism is often unclear. Finally, the association might be dependent on non-Western countries where income inequality is extremely high. In this paper, we evaluate whether there is a relation between income inequality and trust in a sample of Western developed economies when taking into account national wealth. Theoretically, we distinguish between stratification effects and perception effects of inequality. Empirically, besides actual income inequality and national wealth, we include a measurement of perceived inequality on the basis of individual level earnings estimations for stereotypical jobs. We find no significant effect of inequality on trust when taking into account national wealth, suggesting that in Western countries the amount of resources rather than its distribution explains trust. Key words: trust, income inequality, perceived inequality, national wealth, comparative research.
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