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Inequalities and their impacts in European societies. An account of the research project after two years. Mid-Term Conference, Budapest, Friday–Saturday 2012 March 23–24. Political and cultural impacts of growing inequalities Workpackage 5 research report

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Inequalities and their impacts in European societies.

An account of the research project after two years.

Mid-Term Conference, Budapest, Friday–Saturday

2012 March 23–24.

Political and cultural impacts of growing inequalities

Workpackage 5 research report

Workpackage coordinators: Herman Van de Werfhorst and István György Tóth

Contributors to this report: Brian Burgoon

Christina Haas

Dániel Horn

Márton Medgyesi

Natascha Notten

István György Tóth

Herman Van de Werfhorst

Version March 13, 2012

Discussant: Jonas Pontusson (Université de Genéve)


Workpackage summary info:

  • - 17 papers
  • Data from:
  • ESS, EVS, WVS, Eurobarometer, ISSP, EU-SILC, IALS,
  • - Modelling techniques:
  • 2 or 3 level random intercept models,
  • time series and cohort analyses, OLS with fixed effects

The structure of the problem studied in the workpackage

Key variable:


Studied (related) variables:

  • Political and cultural aspects of society
  • (1) perceptions of inequality,
  • (2) civic, cultural and political participation,
  • (3) preferences for redistribution,
  • (4) the consequences for the political system,
  • (5) the legitimacy of politics


- actual and perceived

-measured by hhold income

- type: distance, variance,


  • Causality?
  • (Which direction?
  • What type?)

Table of contents of the report

  • Introduction
  • 2. Inequality and its impacts: theoretical overview, hypotheses
  • 3. Methodological remarks
  • 4. Reflections on/perceptions of changing inequality
  • 5. How inequality affects participation?
  • 6. Changing Inequality and redistribution
  • 7. Rising inequality and consequences for the political system
  • 8. The relation between inequality and legitimacy
  • 9. Conclusions: Does inequality affect politics and culture and if
  • yes, how ?

Findings on effects of inequality on citizens

  • General conclusions:
  • Two major arguments contrasted (in WP5 report):
  • neo-material arguments(resources availabilitybehavior and perceptions)
  • psycho-sociological arguments(differential resources  anxiety, stress, psychological reconciliation mechanisms  participation, involvement, etc)
  • Both mechanisms are found to be supported
  • Specific conclusions: larger inequality tends to show:
  • - a larger level of accepted inequality (Yaish and Andersen)
      • no significant cross section effect on dissatisfaction with the level of
  • perceived inequality but perception responds to change in inequality(Medgyesi)
  • - somewhat negative and slightly significant correlation with various forms of – political, civic, social and cultural – participation (Horn)
  • - positive association with preferences for redistribution (Tóth and Keller)

Findings on effects of inequality on political forces

General conclusions

- testing the link between inequality and preferences for redistribution

yield results here in favour of the basic political economy model,

suggesting that inequality positively associates with preferences for


- the broken link between inequality and redistribution is attributable to how

preferences for redistribution are transformed into redistribution itself.

Specific conclusions:

- there is a negative association between inequality and the salience of

redistribution issues in left-right selfplacement. Points to reversed causality:

low salience of redistribution in the political sphere leads to more dispersed

income distributions. (van der Meer and Hakhverdian)

- inequality affects value systems which can be assumed to affect

political preferences and positioning in the long-run (Corneo)

- inequality is related to anti-globalization backlash in party

positioning (Burgoon).


Findings on effects of inequality on legitimacy

  • General findings:
  • Inequality is significantly associated to lower levels of legitimacy of politics.
  • Specific findings:
  • higher levels of inequality associate with lower levels of political
  • legitimacy; experiencingless inequality is associated with more
  • support for democracy (Andersen)
  • legitimacy is related to educational inequality; there is a clear and
  • increasing educational gap in euroscepticism over a
  • period of thirty years (Hakhverdian)
  • income inequality is related to life satisfaction and to support of
  • governmental interventions and funding. Higher levels ofinequality associates
  • with less satisfaction and with less political legitimacy (Zagórski and Piotrowska)

Interpretation: causality

  • Three types of causality (after Goldthorpe 2001):
    • causation as robust dependence
    • causation as consequential manipulation
    • causation as a generative process.
  • General findings:
  • the findings of the GINI-project do not allow for a causal analysis following the
  • ‘consequential manipulation’ paradigm.
  • the theoretically-grounded analysis of a possible association between
  • inequality and outcomes does provide leverage to suggest causation
  • as a generative process. SPECIFIC HYPOTHESES have therefore been generated
  • which are more informative than seen in much of the existing literature.
broad theoretical framework
Broad theoretical framework
  • The Wilkinson Hypothesis: inequality is harmful not only because of the resources that are more unequally distributed, but also because of interpersonal processes, such as enlarged status differences.
  • The Neo-Material (or resources) theory holds that it is just the resources (at the individual and contextual level).
what do we find
What do we find?
  • Resources (extensively measured) are not fully able to explain inequality effects on social, civic and cultural participation.
  • If education becomes less exclusionary, the ‘status dimension’ of education loses ground (concerning cultural participation).
  • A generalization of the Wilkinson Hypothesis is: If distributions in stratifying variables (e.g. education, income) become more equal, the status element of these variables diminishes.


an apparent contradiction in the findings and lessons for further research

1: citizens living in high inequality countries are usually more accepting

higher levels of inequality than individuals living in less unequal societies.

(Yaish and Andersen)

2: individuals living in more unequal societies are in favour of more redistribution

(Tóth and Keller) and government intervention (Zagorski and Piotrowska),

and have a more negative attitude to inequality (Medgyesi).

3: salience of traditional (i.e. economic) left-right issues is higher in more

egalitarian societies (Hakhverdian and Van der Meer). Inequality levels seem to be

the consequence rather than the cause of low salience of economic redistribution.

To be studied further: how political systems translate between inequality, demand

for redistribution and actual levels fo redistribution




Tolerance to Inequality



Preference for redistribution



Salience of economic redistribution


Even if redistribution is desired, a low salience of redistribution translates into low political willpower to combat inequality.


Thank you for your attention


Figure 1. Cross-country and inter-temporal relationship between income inequality and attitudes to

inequality (pooled WVS/EVS data)

Source: Medgyesi (2011)


Figure 2.– Effect of income on social participation for observed values of MDMI above and belowthe median income

Source: Lancee and van de Werfhorst (2011: 31)


Figure 3. – Association of inequality with turnout

Note: predicted probabilities are for a 40 year old man with average income, who finished education at age 18

Source: Horn (2011a: 22)


Figure 4. – Inequality and redistributive preference index (RPI) in European countries

Source: Tóth and Keller (2011: 30)


Figure 7.1. Marginal effect of redistribution on left-rightself-placement.

Source: Hakhverdian and Van der Meer presentation slides


Figure 7.3: How Social Security transfers reduce the effect

of gross inequality on anti-globalization.

Figure 7.2: Anti-globalization positions and Income

inequality (national means, 1980-2008).

Source: Burgoon (2011: 22)

Source: Burgoon (2011: 31)


Figure 8.1a and 8.1b. Public Opinion on Democracy by (a) level of economic development and (b) incomeinequality.

Note: Trend lines are lowess smooths fitted to the data with outliers (Switzerland CH and Russia RU) omitted.

Source: Andersen, 2011.


Figures 8.2a and 8.2b. The interaction between individual-level income and income inequality

Note: Effect display showing the interaction between individual-level income and income inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient)

in their effects on support for democracy. Dotted lines represent 95% confidence bands.

Source: Andersen, 2011