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Inequality Perceptions and Distributional Preferences


This dissertation studies how inequality perceptions impact Americans’ distributional and other-regarding preferences. The first chapter analyzes original data collected from an online networked experiment and demonstrates that the process through which inequality emerges in the network has a significant impact on individuals’ fairness perceptions and willingness to invest in their communities. The second chapter analyzes original data from an online survey experiment and shows that the addition of pessimistic information about opportunity does not lead to any more support for redistribution when pessimistic information about inequality is already present.

The third and fourth chapters focus specifically on inequality perceptions during the coronavirus pandemic. The third chapter analyzes original data from another survey experiment and finds that receiving information about class inequalities specifically in relation to the outbreak tends to be much more effective in moving people’s opinions compared to receiving that information in a way that does not directly relate it to coronavirus. The fourth and final chapter analyzes data from the same experiment to understand how different framings of the pandemic are influencing public’s threat perceptions regarding the outbreak and finds that emphasis on the unequal aspect of the pandemic leads the public to become less concerned about the outbreak and its human toll.

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