Monday, February 21, 2011

Americans are Panglossian Optimists When It Comes to Income Inequality and Mobility

From Sociological Images, we have the figure below, which "contrasts the average U.S. response to various questions measuring perceptions of mobility and inequality with the average response of 27 comparison countries (from the International Social Survey Programme). In other words, how far from the mean are U.S. citizens’ beliefs about life chances and the value of social inequality?"

Click through for the large original picture, if it's hard to read.

The rather incredible results:

  • About 62% of Americans think that “people get rewarded for their effort,” compared to about 35% of citizens in our national comparison group.
  • About 70% of Americans think that “people get rewarded for their intelligence and skills,” compared to about 40% of citizens in our national comparison group.
  • About 19% of Americans think that “coming from a wealthy family is essential/very important to getting ahead,” compared to about 29% of citizens in our national comparison group.
  • About 62% of Americans think that “differences in income in their country are too large,” compared to about 87% of citizens in our national comparison group.
  • And about 33% of Americans think that “it is the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income,” compared to about 69% of citizens in our national comparison group.
Again, from Sociological Images:
Americans, then, are much more likely than the average citizen in our comparison countries to believe that individual characteristics determine success, wide gaps in income are acceptable, and the government should let them be.   No wonder Americans tend to vote to cut taxes and services, tolerate unequal educational opportunity, and resist top-down solutions to inequality.  They think inequality is good and that individuals will always get what they deserve.
It's interesting to note that Americans' beliefs are completely contrary to reality - Americans are just plain wrong about income equality and mobility in the U.S. Both the Economist and the Center for American Progress state that economic and social mobility in the U.S. is actually quite low by international standards:
By international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of intergenerational mobility: our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults. Intergenerational mobility in the United States is lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among high-income countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility than the United States.
Yay - at least we're more mobile than a country that has been ruled by a monarchy since 774 A.D.!

But seriously - given that the American people are profoundly misinformed about almost every important issue facing the U.S. today, it's not much of a surprise that they're also profoundly wrong about income inequality and mobility as well.

Check out this cool NYT interactive graphic to see just how non-mobile the U.S. society is.

No comments:

Post a Comment