How Social Class and the Framing of Income Inequality Affect Solidarity Within & Across Groups
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New York University
Maureen Alyson Craig
New York University
Sample size: 1816
Field period: 12/06/2017-03/26/2018
Given the near-historic levels of economic inequality in the United States, it is vital to understand when and why people are motivated to reduce it. We examine whether the manner in which economic inequality is framed— either in terms of upper-class advantages or lower-class disadvantages — influences individuals’ reactions to inequality. We find that framing economic inequality as lower-class disadvantages (vs. upper-class advantages or a control frame) enhances support for action to reduce inequality. Moreover, increased support is, in part, driven by perceptions that inequality is more unjust if framed as lower-class disadvantages. Using nationally-representative samples of self-reported upper-class and lower-class individuals, this work suggests that the ways in which economic inequality is communicated (for example, by the media) may reliably influence people’s reactions to and concern for the issue.
We sought to disambiguate how the framing of economic inequality influences individuals’ support for redistributive policies and action to address inequality among both members of disadvantaged (i.e,. lower-class) and privileged (i.e., upper-class) groups. We aimed to test whether making lower-class disadvantage salient (vs. upper-class privilege) will lead upper- and lower-class participants to support redistributive policies and to support collective action to fight other forms of social inequality.
The study included a 2 (experimental condition: advantage framing, disadvantage framing) X 2 (participant social class: lower social class, higher social class) experimental design. The experimental manipulation is provided by presenting participants with an infographic, the content of which varies by condition. In one condition, the infographic is presented in an advantage frame and in the other condition, the infographic is presented in a disadvantage frame.
As the primary outcome measures, participants reported their support for government and business policies aimed at alleviating economic inequalities (taken from the General Social Survey), as well as their willingness to take collective action (attend a protest and share the infographic on social media). Participants also indicated their support for policies aimed to reduce social inequality for other minorities.
We also assessed possible mediators of the effect of framing on reparative or collective action tendencies. Perceived injustice of economic inequality (1 item) and perceptions of similarity and solidarity between the lower-class and other minorities (4 items) were assessed as potential mediators for lower-class participants. Life hardship beliefs (3-items) and beliefs in personal privilege (2 items) were assessed as potential mediators for upper-class participants. To account for other potential mediators based on previous work, all participants were also asked to answer one item assessing group-regard in terms of social class membership and 2 items measuring group-based emotions (guilt for upper-class participants and anger for lower-class participants).
Summary of Results
Framing economic inequality as lower-class disadvantages (vs. upper-class advantages or a control frame) enhanced support for collective action to reduce inequality (attend a protest and share the infographic on social media). Moreover, increased support was, in part, driven by perceptions that inequality is more unjust if framed as lower-class disadvantages.
Dietze, P., & Craig, M. A. (2021). "Framing economic inequality and policy as group disadvantages (versus group advantages) spurs support for action." Nature Human Behaviour 5: 349-360.