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Distributional preferences in larger groups: Keeping up with the Joneses and keeping track of the tails


  • Raymond Fisman

    (Boston University)

  • Ilyana Kiziemko
  • Silvia Vannutelli

    (Boston University, PhD Candidate)


We study distributional preferences in “large†groups. While most prior experi- ments have focused on exploring attitudes toward inequality in two- or three-person groups, we field a series of experiments via Mechanical Turk in which subjects choose between two income distributions, each with seven (or nine) individuals, with hypo- thetical incomes that aim to approximate the actual distribution of income in the U.S. Our setting thus provides a more direct comparison to the redistributive choices faced by society. Consistent with standard maximin (Rawlsian) preferences, subjects select distributions in which the bottom individual’s income is higher (but show little regard for lower incomes above the bottom ranking). In contrast to standard models, however, we find that subjects select distributions that lower the top individual’s income, but not other high incomes. Finally, we provide tentative evidence of “locally competitive†preferences—in most experimental sessions, subjects select distributions that lower the income of the individual directly above them, while the income of the individual two positions above has little effect on subjects’ decisions. Our findings suggest that the- ories of inequality aversion should be enriched to account for individuals’ aversion to “topmost†and “local†disadvantageous inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Raymond Fisman & Ilyana Kiziemko & Silvia Vannutelli, 2018. "Distributional preferences in larger groups: Keeping up with the Joneses and keeping track of the tails," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-301, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bos:iedwpr:dp-301

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard Bernardi, 2006. "Associations between Hofstede’s Cultural Constructs and Social Desirability Response Bias," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 65(1), pages 43-53, April.
    2. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    3. Nathalie Etchart-Vincent & Olivier l’Haridon, 2011. "Monetary incentives in the loss domain and behavior toward risk: An experimental comparison of three reward schemes including real losses," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 42(1), pages 61-83, February.
    4. Lucy F. Ackert & Jorge Martinez‐Vazquez & Mark Rider, 2007. "Social Preferences And Tax Policy Design: Some Experimental Evidence," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(3), pages 487-501, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andreoli, Francesco & Olivera, Javier, 2020. "Preferences for redistribution and exposure to tax-benefit schemes in Europe," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 63(C).
    2. Christine L. Exley & Judd B. Kessler, 2018. "Equity Concerns are Narrowly Framed," NBER Working Papers 25326, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    Inequality aversion; Envy; Redistribution;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies

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