Eat the Rich, Ignore the Poor: The Welfare State and Income Inequality in 46 Societies

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 51
Oral Presentation
Jonathan KELLEY , International Survey Center, Reno, NV
M. D. R. EVANS , Sociology, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV
Nate BREZNAU , Sociology, Intern Graduate School Social Sciences, Bremen, Germany
The emergence of the welfare state provided a countervailing force against the social ills of industrial production and capital markets, namely economic inequality. However, issues of legitimate pay and income inequality regularly spark bitter polarizations, debates and protests. In this paper, we investigate the possibility that these attitudinal phenomena are shaped by the welfare state. We test hypotheses that push beyond material self-interest or country-level development in explaining individual attitudes. Namely we use the breadth of welfare state institutions (welfarism) as a way to cross-nationally identify what leads individuals to endorse redistribution and legitimate earnings for low and high status occupations. Despite ideological and institutional theoretical perspectives, we find that individual attitudes are attracted to the material returns of the welfare state and envy of those who have high incomes. Using ISSP data, this finding is true in the broadest range of countries investigated to date in either of the legitimate pay and welfare state research traditions (45 countries; 112 country-time points; 120k individuals). We conclude that resource acquisition as opposed to equality or social cohesion drives the impact of welfare state institutions on individual attitudes.