Favored groups wrongly perceive equality as a threat

Members of America’s most advantaged groups often mistakenly perceive equality as a threat to their own prosperity, according to nine experiments in which more than 4,000 people participated.

In this work, the scientists argue that these people incorrectly perceive equality as something that necessarily harms their access to resources, and inequality as something that always benefits them. It is only when such equality increases within their group rather than between groups that members of the more advantaged perceive it as not harmful.

These people mistakenly perceive equality as something that necessarily undermines their access to resources, and inequality as something that always benefits them.

“There is a lot of existing evidence that points to the notion that equality benefits everyone in society, improving the economy in general. Everyone benefits from a stronger economy and everyone suffers when the economy suffers”, he explains to SINC derek brownwho leads the study at the University of Berkeley (USA).

Two of the experiments designed for this research involved recruiting participants and assigning them a member of a group of arbitrary advantages. “This arbitrary role of the group was important because it allowed us to rule out the influence of prevailing attitudes and idiosyncratic relationships between favored and disadvantaged groups in the US,” adds the researcher.

Political ideology does not change this view of equality

These misconceptions prevailed regardless of the political stance of individuals and beliefs about equality, and also in the face of policies designed to create scenarios of ‘mutual benefit’according to the study.

“In the article, we argue that members of advantaged groups (not the wealthy) incorrectly perceive inequality as beneficial, and that this is independent of their political conservatism. In fact, we measure it with a so-called seven-point Likert scale, which captures where people indicate they are in political spectrumon one side is the label ‘very conservative’ and on the other it is ‘very liberal,’” says Brown.

The researchers were able to detect that the effect is not exclusively driven by political conservatism, including it as both a control variable and a moderating variable.

The researchers were able to detect that the effect is not exclusively driven by political conservatism, including it as both a control variable and a moderating variable. “As a control, we can determine whether our predicted effect persists even when we account for the variation that exists in the political conservatism. As a moderator, we directly compared whether more liberal participants report misperceptions to a greater extent than conservative ones. However, all participants across the political spectrum mistakenly perceive equality policies as harmful to them,” she continues.

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Most participants in each study declared themselves to be politically liberal. “We don’t measure identification with a political party beyond the two dominant parties in the US,” says the scientist.

Believing that to win, others have to lose

These results highlight the stubborn persistence of zero sumthat is, the belief that for one group to win it must be at the expense of another, even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.

Furthermore, inequality has quantifiable economic cost for the society. The World Bank estimates that the gender pay gap, for example, could cost as much as $160 trillion worldwide.

“Equality in the real world is likely due to unduly negative perceptions of policies that can reduce inequality and unduly positive perceptions of policies that exacerbate it,” says Brown.

Inequality has a quantifiable economic cost to society. The World Bank estimates that the wage gap between men and women, for example, could cost around $160 billion worldwide.

For future studies, the authors recommend examining how people from disadvantaged groups perceive equality-enhancing policies and assessing how society can avoid or circumvent the negative effects of zero-sum misperceptions in the context of equality.

When asked what we can do to end this growing social inequality in the world, Brown emphasizes: “Highlight mutual social benefits, economically encourage people to vote win-win political solutions and co-presenting non-harmful equality policies with harmful policies does not change this misperception. However, there are still several possible avenues to be explored to change this perception, promote equality and alleviate the disparities that society currently faces.”

Reference:

N. Derek Brown. “If you go up, I go down: equality is impeded by the misperception that it harms advantaged groups.” Science

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