Inequality, Politics, and Group Dynamics

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

  • How, if at all, does rising economic inequality change individuals’ biases toward those in their own ‘in-group(s),’ or attitudes towards those in ‘out-groups’?
  • How does high and rising inequality shape the political attitudes and actions of citizens across the economic distribution?

Specific Research Questions 

  • Does increasing economic inequality (or decreasing economic mobility) exacerbate intergroup bias, and if so, which kinds of groups are most susceptible to these effects?
    • How might inequality’s effects on intergroup bias be mediated by geographic space or by institutions such as media outlets or political parties? 
    • Are these effects universal across groups, or do they vary by population or by one’s place in the economic distribution?
    • How may the shape of economic distribution within or between groups mediate these impacts?
    • What are the best strategies for studying these effects, given the ways that economic inequality is co-mingled in the U.S. with a wide variety of group identities?
  • What role do individuals’ perceptions of the level of economic fairness in society play in exacerbating bias across group lines?
    • Might those at the lower end of the distribution express more intergroup bias when they perceive the economic distribution as “unfair?”
    • Does this relationship differ for those at the top end? 
    • How are in- and out-group attitudes differently impacted by objective levels of economic inequality versus the relative ease of economic mobility?
  • Do inequality’s effects on group dynamics mediate individuals’ political responses to inequality? For example, do individuals more strongly associate particular group identities with certain political parties or kinds of political action as inequality rises?
  • Does rising economic inequality increase partisan polarization? Does inequality increase “affective polarization,” wherein individuals become less willing to socialize with others who do not share their political affiliation? 
  • Does inequality intensify group conflict in ways that further entrench the political conditions that foster inequality? Conference participants hypothesized that economic inequality may heighten the effectiveness of political agendas that combine racial or other group-based appeals with opposition to redistribution, thus recursively contributing to inequality.