Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time

  title={Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time},
  author={Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely},
  journal={Perspectives on Psychological Science},
  pages={12 - 9}
  • M. NortonD. Ariely
  • Published 1 January 2011
  • Economics
  • Perspectives on Psychological Science
Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality underlie policy debates ranging from taxation to welfare. We attempt to insert the desires of “regular” Americans into these debates, by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the current distribution of wealth in the United States and to “build a better America” by constructing distributions with their ideal level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality… 

Figures from this paper

American’s desire for less wealth inequality does not depend on how you ask them

A large body of survey research offers evidence that citizens are not always fully aware of the economic and political realities in their respective countries. Norton and Ariely (2011) extended this

Why Do the Rich Oppose Redistribution? An Experiment with America’s Top 5%

Wealthy individuals have a disproportionate influence on politics and firms. We study attitudes toward redistribution of a large sample of the top 5% in the U.S. in terms of income and financial

The Not-So-Common-Wealth of Australia: Evidence for a Cross-Cultural Desire for a More Equal Distribution of Wealth

Recent evidence suggests that Americans underestimate wealth inequality in the United States and favor a more equal wealth distribution (Norton & Ariely, 2011). Does this pattern reflect ideological

“Caught in the Middle! Wealth Inequality and Conflict over Redistribution”

A vast literature documents that wealth inequality has risen throughout advanced democracies, especially the accumulation of wealth among the rich. Yet, instead of increasing wealth redistribution,

The Wealth of Nations: International Judgments Regarding Actual and Ideal Resource Distributions

How much wealth inequality do people think is ideal, and how does that compare with the inequality they perceive in their society? Recent research on individuals’ judgments about the distribution of

Attitudes Toward Economic Inequality: The Illusory Agreement

Recent studies of attitudes toward economic inequality suggest that most people around the world prefer very low levels of inequality, despite well-known trends toward greater inequality within many

Subjective beliefs about the income distribution and preferences for redistribution

It is found that beliefs about overall inequality, measured in terms of income dispersion, play only a marginal role in political positions as well as prospects of future wealth.

Subjective beliefs about the income distribution and preferences for redistribution

We investigate whether beliefs about the income distribution are associated with political positions for or against redistribution. Using a novel elicitation method, we assess individuals’ beliefs

The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs about Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution

It is widely assumed that Americans care little about income inequality, believe opportunities abound, admire the rich, and dislike redistributive policies. In her talk, Leslie McCall shows how such

Subjective Status Shapes Political Preferences

In four studies, correlation and experimental evidence is found that subjective status motivates shifts in support for redistributive policies along with the ideological principles that justify them.



Wealth in America

Wealth ownership in the United States has always concentrated in the hands of a small minority of the population. Because of scarce data on wealth ownership, the nature of wealth ownership

“Fair” Inequality? Attitudes toward Pay Differentials: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Are American attitudes toward economic inequality different from those in other countries? One tradition in sociology suggests American “exceptionalism,” while another argues for convergence across

Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind

In 2001 and 2003, the Bush administration engineered two enormous tax cuts primarily benefiting very wealthy taxpayers. Most Americans supported these tax cuts. I argue that they did so not because

Getting Rich: America's New Rich and How They Got That Way

Although sociologists have examined income inequality in excruciating detail, they have not shown much interest in the inequality of wealth. Indeed, economists have much more to say about the

Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches

The idea of America as politically polarized—that there is an unbridgeable divide between right and left, red and blue states—has become a cliche. What commentators miss, however, is that increasing

The global pattern of household wealth

We provide the first estimate of the level and distribution of global household wealth. The level of assets and debts for 39 countries are measured using household balance sheet and survey data

Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution: the Poum Hypothesis

Even relatively poor people oppose high rates of redistribution because of the anticipation that they or their children may move up the income ladder. This hypothesis commonly advanced as an

Inequality, Too Much of a Good Thing

As the title of this essay suggests, I believe there are both positive and negative effects of inequality. On the positive side, differential rewards provide incentives for individuals to work hard,

Fairness and redistribution

Different beliefs about the fairness of social competition and what determines income inequality influence the redistributive policy chosen in a society. But the composition of income in equilibrium

From wealth to well-being? Money matters, but less than people think

While numerous studies have documented the modest (though reliable) link between household income and well-being, we examined the accuracy of laypeople's intuitions about this relationship by asking