Inequality ‘perpetuates itself’ through popular support

Inequality undermines social trust, which in turn weakens popular support for income redistribution, according to a new study.

The study looked at the relationship between economic inequality – at both individual and national level – and attitudes towards income inequality in 20 developed capitalist societies.

Key points

  • Working-class people who live in poorer conditions are less accepting of income inequality than others who live in relatively affluent economic conditions (such as professionals and managers).
  • The effect of someone’s class origin operates in the same way, though less strongly.
  • People’s attitudes towards income inequality are not directly affected by the experience of intergenerational mobility.
  • There is no significant link between egalitarian attitudes and per-capita GDP, implying that the average level of economic prosperity is not a force propelling value change.
  • Economic inequality undermines social trust, which results in social intolerance. As a result, countries with a high level of income inequality tend also to be characterised by public support for it. Inequality perpetuates itself in a continuous cycle through popular support.

If politicians respond only to public opinion, the researchers conclude, significant change to redistribution policy is unlikely to come quickly.

Source: Robert Andersen and Meir Yaish, Public Opinion on Income Inequality in 20 Democracies: The Enduring Impact of Social Class and Economic Inequality, Discussion Paper 48, GINI Project (European Commission)
Link: Paper

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