Wealth Distribution in America: It’s Not What Americans Think or Want

There were some interesting enlightening findings published last year from two well-respected researchers (Norton and Ariely) on the topic of wealth distribution. I remember seeing it last year when it came out and it being rather startling. I came across it again a couple of weeks ago and had it bookmarked to see if I could glean any other insights from it. I stumbled across the bookmark this morning and thought I’d post it here, in case any of you had any thoughts you wanted to offer on the research findings.

Specifically, I’m referring to a chart that came from the article the two researchers published and was reproduced by Mother Jones (political magazine). Here’s the chart from Mother Jones (note: the chart from the published journal article is the same in content):

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.

A bit startling, huh? I find it fascinating that Americans want the top 20% to have ~32% and that they actually have almost triple that much!

Some important things to think about from the authors [emphasis added]:

Given the consensus among disparate groups on the gap between an ideal distribution of wealth and the actual level of wealth inequality, why are more Americans, especially those with low income, not advocating for greater redistribution of wealth? First, our results demonstrate that Americans appear to drastically underestimate the current level of wealth inequality, suggesting they may simply be unaware of the gap. Second, just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States, beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distributions of wealth. Third, despite the fact that conservatives and liberals in our sample agree that the current level of inequality is far from ideal, public disagreements about the causes of that inequality may drown out this consensus. Finally, and more broadly, Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes toward economic inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences, suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that would narrow this gap.

The ironic piece to this entire discussion is that conservatives and liberals agree that the level of inequality is ideal. However, as with just about everything in politics these days, these two ideologically different groups of people disagree about the best way to resolve it.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: