Does Inequality Matter?

How People Perceive Economic Disparities and Social Mobility

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The recovery after the COVID-19 crisis requires policies and reforms that tackle inequalities and promote equal opportunities. However, the implementation of such reforms requires widespread support from the public. To better understand what factors drive public support, this report provides a detailed cross-country analysis of people’s perceptions of and concern over inequality. It documents how concern over income disparities has risen in OECD countries over the long run. Nowadays, in most countries a large majority of the population believes that income disparities are too large and that intergenerational mobility is low. Yet, sufficient support for inequality-reducing policies may fail to arise if people do not agree on concrete policy options, or doubt the effectiveness of such policies. Moreover, even when the majority demands more equality, a divided public opinion can complicate the introduction of reforms. The report highlights how people within the same country are often divided as to the extent of inequality and what should be done to address this challenge. The report illustrates how the findings from analysis of perceptions and concerns can serve to inform policy making.

English Also available in: French

Has the public opinion become more divided?

This chapter goes beyond country-level averages to look at the entire distribution of people’s perceptions of and levels of concern about economic inequalities in different countries. In most, it finds, public opinion is deeply divided with perceptions of inequality widely dispersed from very low to very high. Such dispersion can only be partially explained by standard socio-economic divides across income, education, employment status, gender, age and household size. In some instances, the dispersion of perceptions and concern becomes polarization between groups with starkly different views. Both dispersion and polarization of perceived disparities and concern have grown steeply over time. Higher levels of observed inequality are associated not only with greater perceived disparities and concerns, but with a more divided public opinion.

English Also available in: French



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