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Income Inequality and Social Preferences for Redistribution and Compensation Differentials

  • William R. Kerr

In cross-sectional studies, countries with greater income inequality typically exhibit less support for government-led redistribution and greater acceptance of wage inequality (e.g., United States versus Western Europe). If individual nations evolve along this pattern, a vicious cycle could form with reduced social concern amplifying primal increases in inequality due to forces like skill-biased technical change. Exploring movements around these long-term levels, however, this study finds mixed evidence regarding the vicious cycle hypothesis. On one hand, larger compensation differentials are accepted as inequality grows. This growth in differentials is of a smaller magnitude than the actual increase in inequality, but it is nonetheless positive and substantial in size. Weighing against this, growth in inequality is met with greater support for government-led redistribution to the poor. These patterns suggest that short-run inequality shocks can be reinforced in the labor market but do not result in weaker political preferences for redistribution.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17701.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Publication status: published as Kerr, William R. "Income Inequality and Social Preferences for Redistribution and Compensation Differentials." Journal of Monetary Economics (forthcoming).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17701
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