Attitudes towards income inequality: ‘Winners’ versus ‘losers’ of the perceived meritocracy

Karlijn Roex, Timothy Hubertus Maria Huijts, Inge Sieben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individuals with a higher social position are more tolerant of current income inequality than individuals with a lower social position. Besides this, attitudes towards income inequality are influenced by inequality-legitimising myths in a given society. Little is known about how these two factors interact. This study combines these two lines of research and argues that different social strata are more polarised in their attitudes towards inequality in societies with strong prevalent meritocratic perceptions. We expect lower-status individuals (i.e. with a lower income or education) to experience a threat to their group esteem and therefore be less likely to support their society’s inequalities in societies with such strong meritocratic perceptions. This hypothesis was tested using data from the International Social Survey Programme 2009 (Social Inequality) on 39 countries. The results show that different social strata are indeed more polarised in their attitudes towards inequality in societies where meritocratic perceptions are more prevalent. Our results are robust for income, but not for education. This suggests that in perceived meritocracies, people regard income as the primary indicator of effort and ability.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Cite this