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Which Inequality? The Inequality of Endowments Versus the Inequality of Rewards

  • Hopkins, Ed
  • Kornienko, Tatiana

Society often allocates valuable resources - such as prestigious positions, salaries, or marriage partners - via tournament-like institutions. In such situations, inequality affects incentives to compete and hence has a direct effect on equilibrium choices and hence material outcomes. We introduce a new distinction between inequality in initial endowments (e.g. ability, inherited wealth) and inequality of what one can obtain as rewards (e.g. prestigious positions, money). We show that these two types of inequality have opposing effects on equilibrium behavior and wellbeing. Greater inequality of rewards tends to hurt most people — both the middle class and the poor, — who are forced into greater effort. In contrast, greater inequality of endowments tends to benefit the middle class. Thus, which type of inequality is considered hugely affects the correctness of our intuitions about the implications of inequality.

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Paper provided by Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE) in its series SIRE Discussion Papers with number 2008-13.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:edn:sirdps:26
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  1. Ed Hopkins, 2008. "Inequality, Happiness and Relative Concerns: What Actually is their Relationship?," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001896, UCLA Department of Economics.
  2. Konrad, Kai A., 2007. "Strategy in contests: an introduction
    [Strategie in Turnieren – eine Einführung]
    ," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Market Processes and Governance SP II 2007-01, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  3. Angus Deaton, 2003. "Health, Inequality, and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 113-158, March.
  4. Robert M. Costrell & Glenn C. Loury, 2004. "Distribution of Ability and Earnings in a Hierarchical Job Assignment Model," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-135, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  5. Phelps Brown, Henry, 1988. "Egalitarianism and the Generation of Inequality," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198286486, March.
  6. James Konow, 2003. "Which Is the Fairest One of All? A Positive Analysis of Justice Theories," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(4), pages 1188-1239, December.
  7. Charness, Gary B & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences With Simple Tests," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0dc3k4m5, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  8. Ed Hopkins & Tatiana Kornienko, 2004. "Running to Keep in the Same Place: Consumer Choice as a Game of Status," ESE Discussion Papers 92, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  9. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1999. "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Munich Reprints in Economics 20650, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  10. Fernandez, Raquel & Gali, Jordi, 1999. "To Each According to . . . ? Markets, Tournaments, and the Matching Problem with Borrowing Constraints," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(4), pages 799-824, October.
  11. Robert Frank, 2000. "Does Growing Inequality Harm the Middle Class?," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 253-264, Summer.
  12. Cole, Harold L. & Mailath, George J. & Postlewaite, Andrew, 1998. "Class systems and the enforcement of social norms," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 5-35, October.
  13. Wing Suen, 2007. "The comparative statics of differential rents in two-sided matching markets," Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer, vol. 5(2), pages 149-158, August.
  14. Bull, Clive & Schotter, Andrew & Weigelt, Keith, 1987. "Asymmetric Tournaments, Equal Opportunity Laws and Affirmative Action: Some Experimental Results," Working Papers 87-33, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  15. Cole, Harold L & Mailath, George J & Postlewaite, Andrew, 1992. "Social Norms, Savings Behavior, and Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(6), pages 1092-1125, December.
  16. Mailath, George J, 1987. "Incentive Compatibility in Signaling Games with a Continuum of Types," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(6), pages 1349-65, November.
  17. Brown, Gordon D. A. & Gardner, Jonathan & Oswald, Andrew J. & Qian, Jing, 2005. "Does Wage Rank Affect Employees' Wellbeing?," IZA Discussion Papers 1505, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  18. Zenginobuz, Unal, 1996. "Concern for relative position, rank-order contests, and contributions to public goods," MPRA Paper 388, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  19. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy & Ivan Werning, 2005. "The Equilibrium Distribution of Income and the Market for Status," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(2), pages 282-310, April.
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