A causal relationship between economic development and social inequality has long been hypothesized in both economics and sociology. Given the rapid economic growth in contemporary China, how do ordinary Chinese view this relationship? We hypothesize that because the Chinese have recently experienced rapid increases in both economic growth and social inequality, they tend to view economic development as a driving force of social inequality. As a result, individual Chinese, with this causal model in mind, will simply project high levels of inequality onto countries they view as more developed and low levels of inequality onto countries they see as less developed. Using data from a 2006 survey conducted in six Chinese provinces (n = 4,898), we found that a large fraction of Chinese people rated inequality in a country in correspondence to their rating of economic development in the same country. However, while their ratings of economic development resemble those published by the United Nations based on social science data, their ratings of inequality do not match those of the United Nations.
Country of focus: China.