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psc brown bag iconThe Un/deserving Rich: American Beliefs about Opportunity and Inequality in the Era of Rising Inequality

Leslie McCall (Department of Sociology, Northwestern University)

11/15/2011, Tues, noon, 6050 ISR-Thompson

The claim that Americans care about opportunity and not inequality is often used to explain high levels of income inequality in the United States, but there is little empirical research on the subject. This paper develops a framework for defining what economic opportunity means to Americans and how views about opportunity might be related to concerns about income inequality. These hypotheses are tested with General Social Survey data on attitudes about both economic opportunity and income inequality. The analysis finds that Americans draw coherent connections between particular violations of equal opportunity and corresponding problems with income inequality, even viewing income inequality itself as a barrier to economic opportunity. This has important policy implications for how Americans believe income inequality ought to be addressed, which includes expanding opportunity in the private sector as well as (if not in place of) redistributing income by the government.


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