Inequality and support for redistribution in OECD countries

People in developed (OECD) countries are more likely to support redistribution measures if inequality is high, according to an academic study. But it goes on to suggest the link is not a simple one, and that certain ‘fundamental country characteristics’ may also play an important role.

The research looked at individuals’ perceptions of inequality, distributional norms and redistributive preferences, and how these relate to the effective level of inequality and redistribution.

Key points

  • There is considerable variation in subjective perceptions and preferences, both within and across countries and regions. Those from European countries ‘not surprisingly’ tend to demand more redistribution than those from Anglo-American countries.
  • Overall, support for redistribution is positively correlated with the effective level of inequality.
  • Attitudes to inequality and redistribution are also, at least partially, linked with individuals’ political preferences and voting behaviour.
  • Certain non-economic factors may also be at work, however. These include the proportion of the population aged 65 or over, whether the political system is based on proportional representation, the degree of ethnic diversity, and whether a country was previously part of the Soviet bloc. All these factors, the paper suggests, play an important role in explaining variations in support for redistribution in individual countries.

Source: Andreas Kuhn, Redistributive Preferences, Redistribution, and Inequality: Evidence from a Panel of OECD Countries, Discussion Paper 6721, Institute for the Study of Labor (Bonn)
Link: Paper