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How Social Class Shapes Attitudes on Economic Inequality: The Competing Forces of Self-Interest and Legitimation

Listed author(s):
  • Josh Curtis

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  • Robert Andersen

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    Using survey data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and national-level statistics from various official sources, we explore how attitudes toward economic inequality are shaped by economic conditions across 24 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Consistent with the economic self-interest thesis, we find that where income inequality is low, those in lower economic positions tend to be less likely than those in higher economic positions to favor it being increased. On the other hand, where economic resources are highly unequally distributed, the adverse effects of inequality climb the class ladder, resulting in the middle classes being just as likely as the working class to favor a reduction in inequality. Our results further suggest that people tend to see current levels of inequality as legitimate, regardless of their own economic position, but nonetheless desire economic change—i.e., they would like to see inequality reduced—if they perceive it could improve their own economic situation.

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    Paper provided by LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg in its series LIS Working papers with number 644.

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    Length: 39 pages
    Date of creation: Sep 2015
    Publication status: Published in International Review of Social Research 5, no. 1 (2015): 4-19
    Handle: RePEc:lis:liswps:644
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    1. Nolan, Brian & Salverda, Wiemer & Checchi, Daniele & Marx, Ive & McKnight, Abigail & Toth, Istvan Gy (ed.), 2014. "Changing Inequalities and Societal Impacts in Rich Countries: Thirty Countries' Experiences," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199687428.
    2. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-41.
    3. Robert Andersen & Anthony Heath, 2003. "Social identities and political cleavages: the role of political context," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 166(3), pages 301-327.
    4. DAVIES, JAMES B & Shorrocks, Anthony & Sandstrom, Susanna & WOLFF, EDWARD N, 2007. "The World Distribution of Household Wealth," Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, Working Paper Series qt3jv048hx, Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, UC Santa Cruz.
    5. Frederick Solt, 2009. "Standardizing the World Income Inequality Database," LIS Working papers 496, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    6. Geoffrey Evans & Anthony Heath, 1995. "The measurement of left-right and libertarian-authoritarian values: A comparison of balanced and unbalanced scales," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 29(2), pages 191-206, May.
    7. repec:cup:apsrev:v:88:y:1994:i:02:p:336-354_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Frederick Solt, 2009. "Standardizing the World Income Inequality Database," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 90(2), pages 231-242.
    9. Heath, Anthony & Evans, Geoffrey & Martin, Jean, 1994. "The Measurement of Core Beliefs and Values: The Development of Balanced Socialist/Laissez Faire and Libertarian/Authoritarian Scales," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 24(01), pages 115-132, January.
    10. Meltzer, Allan H & Richard, Scott F, 1981. "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 914-927, October.
    11. repec:cup:apsrev:v:105:y:2011:i:02:p:316-336_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Arthur Alderson & Jason Beckfield & Francois Nielsen, 2005. "Exactly How has Income Inequality Changed? Patterns of Distributional Change in Core Societies," LIS Working papers 422, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    13. World Bank, 2010. "World Development Indicators 2010," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 4373, December.
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