This paper investigates the knowledge and beliefs of ordinary people in China and the United States about levels and trends in societal development and income inequality. We also investigate whether individual Chinese and Americans believe that development and inequality are positively or negatively interrelated. Our paper is guided by the hypothesis that people’s views about development and income inequality are affected by the international dissemination of information and ideas about these topics and by actual trends in development and inequality in a person’s country. Our data come from three surveys in the United States and two surveys in China conducted in 2006 and 2007. These data show that people in both countries perceive an international hierarchy of countries on development that is very similar to the development hierarchy of the United Nations Human Development Index. These data also show that in both countries there is little correspondence between respondent views of income inequality and the actual levels of inequality in countries. Our analyses also indicate that both Americans and Chinese perceive positive links between levels of development and income inequality, with the relationships more pronounced in China than in the U.S. The majority of people in both countries perceive development programs as increasing the levels of income inequality.
Countries of focus: China, United States.