Surprising Perceptions About Income Distribution

A new study based on perceptions of over 5,000 people shows views about income distibution that contradict the belief that people are OK with income inequities.
“All demographic groups — even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy — desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.”
They also report:
“In addition, all groups agreed that such redistribution should take the form of moving wealth from the top quintile to the bottom three quintiles. In short, while Americans tend to be relatively more favorable toward economic inequality than members of other countries (Osberg & Smeeding, 2006), Americans’ consensus about the ideal distribution of wealth within the United States appears to dwarf their disagreements across gender, political orientation, and income.”
“Overall, these results demonstrate two primary messages. First, a large nationally representative sample of Americans seem to prefer to live in a country more like Sweden than like the United States. Americans also construct ideal distributions that are far more equal than they estimated the United States to be – estimates which themselves were far more equal than the actual level of inequality. Second, across groups from different sides of the political spectrum, there was much more consensus than disagreement about this desire for a more equal distribution of wealth, suggesting that Americans may possess a commonly held “normative” standard for the distribution of wealth despite the many disagreements about policies that affect that distribution, such as taxation and welfare (Kluegel & Smith, 1986). We hasten to add, however, that our use of “normative” is in a descriptive sense – reflecting the fact that Americans agree on the ideal distribution – but not necessarily in a prescriptive sense. While some evidence suggests that economic inequality is associated with decreased well-being (Napier & Jost, 2008), creating a society with the precise level of inequality that our respondents report as ideal may not be optimal from an economic or public policy perspective (Krueger, 2004).”

(Note: The report -Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time
Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School) and Dan Ariely (Duke University)-is posted on this site under Research Studies)

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