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24-05-2021 | Issue 2/2021

Social Justice Research 2/2021

Measuring Perceptions of Economic Inequality and Justice: An Empirical Assessment

Journal:
Social Justice Research > Issue 2/2021
Authors:
Nicholas Heiserman, Brent Simpson
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The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11211-021-00368-x.

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Abstract

How should we measure people’s perceptions of—and attitudes about—economic inequality? A recent literature seeks to quantify the level of inequality that people, especially Americans, perceive and prefer in society. These findings have garnered much attention from both social scientists and the public. But many of the methods used in this literature are either known to have methodological issues or have not been thoroughly compared against other methods. Thus it is not clear which, if any, are valid and reliable measures of perceived, or preferred, inequality. To assess these measures, we conducted a large web-based study (N = 831) to compare key methods for measuring perceived inequality and their related justice attitudes. In addition to comparing the resultant summary statistics, we assess how well the different measures correlate with each other and with Likert scale measures of perceived inequality. Our analysis reveals a range of issues with these measures, including failure to provide logical responses, large method effects on point estimates of inequality, and low correlations between methods and with criteria measures. We conclude our analysis with three recommendations for researchers aiming to measure inequality perceptions and preferences.

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