Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Preferences for the Distribution of Incomes in Modern Societies: The Enduring Influence of Social Class and Economic Context

Document type Article
Author Andersen, Robert
Author Yaish, Meir
Journal Canadian Public Policy
Volume 44
Date 2018 June
ISSN 0317-0861, 1911-9917
Pages 190-205


Using International Social Survey Program data, we explore the relationship between economic context and attitudes with respect to the distribution of incomes in 20 modern societies, including Canada. Our findings demonstrate that economic inequality has an enduring influence on attitudes. Consistent with the economic self-interest thesis, preferences for equality are strongest among those in working-class occu- pations. Moreover, independent of one’s own social class, one’s father’s social class has a similar enduring impact on attitudes later in life. These relationships are relatively similar across the 20 societies we explore. Still, significant differences in attitudes can be explained by national economic context. We find a strong positive relationship between national-level inequality and opinions on how much inequality there ought to be in the income distribution. In contrast to previous research, however, our findings suggest that national-level economic prosperity and equality of opportunity have little influence on public opinion.