Inequality and the Top-End

Inequality, Geography, and Perceptions Inequality and Social Comparisons | Inequality, Politics, and Group Dynamics | Inequality and the Top-End | Inequality and the Workplace | Inequality and Health | Earlier Topics of Focus

Defining Themes

  • Where and how do those at the top-end of the economic distribution become aware (either consciously or not) of rising inequality?
  • What kinds of psychological responses do people at or near the top-end exhibit as inequality rises? 
  • How do such psychological responses alter the behaviors of those at the top-end, both over the course of their daily lives (such as through reduced sociability or effectiveness as leaders) and in larger societal contexts (such as through changed engagement in charitable giving or political activities)? Could such behaviors have cumulative effects that would increase the degree of economic inequality in the U.S.? 

Specific Research Questions 

  • Does high inequality alter the kinds of interpersonal comparisons made by those at the top-end? Does it result in increased status anxiety?
  • Some evidence suggests that if one primes high income individuals with information about the high level of economic inequality in their home state—and their own position within the skew—they are more selfish in experimental “social games.” Are these findings reflective of individual behavior in the real world? 
  • Have the particular locations and networks that people at the top-end inhabit (such as wealthy neighborhoods and elite universities, firms, or parts of the government) changed with growing inequality, and how do they affect perceptions of its extent?
  • Does rising economic inequality cause individuals at the top-end in particular to find high inequality more justified?
  • Some studies suggest that attending universities with particularly affluent student bodies causes students to adopt more conservative or efficiency-minded political preferences. Why might some students’ preferences change, at what point in time, and does this process differ by factors such as students’ personal characteristics or educational experiences?
  • Might increasing inequality shift economic elites’ political preferences (including with respect to redistribution), perhaps as a result of increased feelings that economic disparities are justified?
  • Do the origins and type of one’s income—labor vs. capital, earned vs. inherited—impact the political attitudes and social behaviors of wealthy individuals?
  • Wealthy individuals are unlikely to respond to surveys or sign up for MTurk-type experiments; how can researchers procure data on their attitudes and actions?