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.
Alderson, A. S., J. Beckfield and F. Nielsen. (2005) ‘Exactly How Has Income Inequality Changed? Patterns of Distributional Change in Core Societies’. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 46(5-6):405-423.
Alesina, A., A. Devleeschauwer, W. Easterly, S. Kurlat and R. Wacziarg. (2003) ‘Fractionalization’. Journal of Economic Growth, 8(1):155-194.
Andersen, R. (2012) ‘Support for Democracy in Cross-national Perspective: The Detrimental Effect of Economic Inequality’. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 30(4):389-402.
Andersen, R. and J. Curtis. (2012) ‘The Polarizing Effect of Economic Inequality on Class Identification: Evidence from 44 Countries’. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 30(1):129-141.
Andersen, R. and J. Curtis (2013) ‘Public Opinion on Redistribution in Canada, 1980-2005: The Role of Political and Economic Context,’ pp. 141-164 in Inequality and the Fading of Redistributive Politics, edited by Keith Banting and John Myles. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Andersen, R. and T. Fetner. (2008) ‘Economic Inequality and Intolerance: Attitudes toward Homosexuality in 35 Democracies’. American Journal of Political Science, 52(4): 942-958.
Andersen, R. and A. Heath. (2003) ‘Social Identities and Political Cleavages: The Role of Political Context.’ Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 166(1):301-327.
Andersen, R. and M.Yaish. (2012) ‘Public Opinion on Income Inequality in 20 Democracies: The Enduring Impact of Social Class and Economic Inequality’. GINI working paper series paper 48, July 2012. http://gini-research.org/system/uploads/377/original/DP_48_-_Andersen_Yaish.pdf?1345039244
Andersen, R., M.Yang and A. Heath. (2006) ‘Class Politics and Political Context in Britain, 1964-97: Have voters become more individualized?’. European Sociological Review, 22(1):125-138.
Bengtsson, M., T.Berglund and M. Oskarson. (2013) ‘Class and Ideological Orientations Revisited: An Exploration of Class-Based Mechanisms’. British Journal of Sociology, 64(4):691-716.
Clark, T. N. and S. M. Lipset. (1991) ‘Social Classes Dying?’. International Sociology, 6(1):397-410.
Curtis, J. (2013) ‘Class Identification in the Modern World: How Politics and Economics Matter’. 2013. The Canadian Review of Sociology, 50(2): 203-226.
Davies, J. B., S. Sandström, A. Shorrocks, E. N. Wolff. (2008) ‘The world distribution of household wealth’. WIDER Discussion Papers, World Institute for Development Economics (UNU-WIDER), No. 2008/03, ISBN 978-92-9230-065-4
Evans, G. and N. D. de Graaf. (2013) Political Choice Matters. Explaining the Strength of Class and Religious Cleavages in Cross-National Perspective. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Evans, G. and A. Heath, (1995) ‘The measurement of left-right and libertarian-authoritarian values: comparing balanced and unbalanced scales’. Quality and Quantity, 29(1):191-206.
Evans, M.D.R. and Jonathan Kelley. (2004) ‘Subjective Social Location: Data from 21 Nations’. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 16(1):3-38.
Evans, G., A. Heath and M. Lalljee. (1996) ‘Measuring left-right and libertarian-authoritarian values in the British electorate’. British Journal of Sociology, 47(1):93-112.
Feldman, S. (1988) ‘Structure and consistency in public opinion: the role of core beliefs and values’. American Journal of Political Science, 32(2):416-440.
Finseraas, H. (2012) ‘Poverty, Ethnic Minorities among the Poor, and Preferences for Redistribution in European Regions.” Journal of European Social Policy 22 (2):164-180.
Firebaugh, G. (2000) ‘The Trend in Between-Nation Income Inequality’. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1):323-339.
Goesling, B. (2001) ‘Changing Income Inequalities within and between Nations: New Evidence.” American Sociological Review, 66(5):745-61.
Heath, A., G. Evans and J. Martin. (1994) ‘The Measurement of Core Beliefs and Values: The Development of Balanced Socialist/Laissez Faire and Libertarian/Authoritarian Scales.” British Journal of Political Science 24(1):115-132.
Heath, A.F., R.M. Jowell and J.K. Curtice. (2001) The Rise of New Labour. Party Policies and Voter Choices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Inglehart, R. (1977) The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles among Western Publics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Inglehart, R. and P.R. Abramson. (1994) ‘Economic Security and Value Change’. The American Political Science Review, 88(2):336-354.
Inglehart, R. et al. (2006) ‘World Values Surveys and European Values Surveys, 1981–1984, 1990–1993, 1995–1997 and 1999–2000” Computer file]. ICPSR version Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research [producer]. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor].
Jager, M. M. (2006) ‘What makes people support public responsibility for welfare provision: Self-interest or political ideology? ’. Acta Sociologica, 49(3):321-338.
Jager, M. M. (2013) ‘The Effect of Macroeconomic and Social Conditions on the Demand for Redistribution: A Pseudo Panel Approach’. Journal of European Social Policy, 23(2):149-163.
Joakim, K. and S. Svallfors. (2013) ‘Class, Values, and Attitudes towards Redistribution: A European Comparison’. European Sociological Review, 29(2):155-167.
Kelley, J. and M.D.R. Evans. (1993) ‘The Legitimation of Inequality: Occupational Earnings in Nine Nations’. American Journal of Sociology, 99(1):75-125.
Kelley, J. and M.D.R. Evans. (1995) ‘Class and Class Conflict in Six Western Nations’. American Sociological Review, 60:157-178.
Kingston, P. (2001) The Classless Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Lancee, Bram and Herman van de Werfhorst, 2011. “Income Inequality and Participation: A Comparison of 25 European Countries.” Amsterdam, AIAS, GINI Discussion Paper 6.
Lijphart, A. (1979) ‘Religion vs. Linguistic vs. Class Voting: The “Crucial Experiment” of Comparing Belgium, Canada, South Africa, and Switzerland’. American Political Science Review, 73(2):442-458.
Lübker, M. (2007) ‘Inequality and the Demand for Redistribution: Are the Assumptions of the New Growth Theory Valid? ’. Socio-Economic Review, 5(1):117–48.
Lupu, N. and J. Pontusson. (2011) ‘The Structure of Inequality and the Politics of Redistribution’. American Political Science Review, 105(2):316–36.
Luxembourg Income Study. (2005) ‘Income Inequality Measures’. http://www.lisproject.org/keyfigures/ineqtable.htm.
McCall, L.and C. Percheski. (2010) ‘Income Inequality: New Trends and Research Directions’. Annual Review of Sociology, 36(1):329-47.
McClosky, H. and J. Zaller. (1984) The American Ethos: Public Attitudes toward Capitalism and Democracy, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.
Meltzer, A. H. and S. F. Richard. (1981) ‘A Rational Theory of the Size of Government’. Journal of Political Economy, 89 (5): 914–927.
Moller, Stephanie, Arthur S. Alderson and François Nielsen. (2009) ‘Changing Patterns of Income Inequality in U.S. Counties, 1970-2000’. American Journal of Sociology, 114(1):1037-1101.
Neckermann, K. M. and F. Torche, (2007) ‘Inequality: Causes and Consequences’. Annual Review of Sociology, 33(1):335-357.
Niedzwiedz, C. L. and M. Kandlik-Eltanani. (2014) ‘Attitudes Towards Income and Wealth Inequality and Support for Scottish Independence Over time and the Interaction with National Identity’. Scottish Affairs, 23(1):27-54.
Nolan, B. , W. Salverda, D. Checchi, I. Marx, A. McKnight, I. G. Toth and H. v. d. Werfhorst. (2014) Changing Inequalities and Societal Impacts in Rich Countries. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Pakulski, J. and M. Waters. (1996) ‘The Reshaping and Dissolution of Social Class in Advanced Society’. Theory and Society, 25(1):667-691.
Piketty, T. and E.Saez. (2003) ‘Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998’. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(1):1-39.
Reardon, S. F. and K. Bischoff. (2011) ‘Income Inequality and Income Segregation’. American Journal of Sociology, 116(4):1092-1153.
Robinson, R. V and J. Kelley. (1979) ‘Class as Conceived by Marx and Dahrendorf: Effects on Income Inequality and Politics in the United States and Great Britain’. American Sociological Review, 44(1):38–58.
Rokeach, M. (1973) The Nature of Human Values. New York, NY: Free Press.
Rueda, D. and J. Pontusson. (2010) ‘Individual preferences for redistribution in western Europe: Self-interest, political articulation, altruism and identity’. Working Paper, February 2010.
Shultz, T. Paul. (1998) ‘Inequality in the Distribution of Personal Income in the World: How it is Changing and Why’. Journal of Population Economics, 3(1):307-344.
Solt, F. (2009) ‘Standardizing the World Income Inequality Database’. Social Science Quarterly, 90(2):231–242.
Sosnaud, B., D. Brady and S. M. Frenk. (2013) ‘Class in Name Only: Subjective Class Identity, Objective Class Position, and Vote Choice in American Presidential Elections’. Social Problems 60(1): 81-99.
Svallfros, S. (1993) ‘Dimensions of Inequality: A Comparison of Attitudes in Sweden and Britain’. European Sociological Review, 9(3):267-287.
Svallfors, S. (1997) ‘Worlds of Welfare and Attitudes to Redistribution: A Comparison of Eight Western Nations’. European Sociological Review, 13(3):283-304.
Svallfors, S. (2004) ‘Class, Attitudes and the Welfare State: Sweden in Comparative Perspective’. Social Policy and Administration, 38(2):119-138.
Uslaner, E. M. (2002) The Moral Foundations of Trust. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Ulsaner, E. M. and M. Brown. (2005. “Inequality, Trust, and Civic Engagement’. American Politics Research, 33(6): 868-894.
Vanneman, R. D. (1980) ‘U.S. and British Perceptions of Class’. The American Journal of Sociology, 85(4): 769–790.
Weakliem, D. (1993) ‘Class Consciousness and Political Change: Voting and Political Attitudes in the British Working Class, 1964 to 1970’. American Sociological Review, 58(3): 382-397.
Weakliem, D., R. Andersen and A. Heath. (2005) ‘By Popular Demand: The Effect of Public Opinion on Income Inequality’. Comparative Sociology, 4(1):261-84.
Wilkinson, R. G. and K. Pickett. (2010) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin.
World Bank. (2010) World Development Indicators. http://www.worldbank.org.
Wright, E. O. (1989) ‘The Comparative Project on Class Structure and Class Consciousness: An Overview’. Acta Sociological, 32(1):3-22.