Preferences for the distribution of incomes in modern societies: The enduring influence of social class and economic context

Robert Andersen, Meir Yaish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 occupations. 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-205
Number of pages16
JournalCanadian Public Policy/ Analyse de Politiques
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 149/12 to the second author). The research is part of a larger collaborative research project between the two authors to which they have made equal contributions. Order of authorship is systematically rotated from one article to the next.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 University of Toronto Press Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Income inequality
  • Public opinion
  • Social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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