EXPERIMENT 5: Building a Better America — One Wealth Quintile at a Time

Assumptions about the optimal level of wealth (in)equality underlie a wide range of government debates and have applications to broad areas of public policy. However, these assumptions are often based on ideology rather than data.


In this study, we both gauged the perception of the wealth distribution in the US and elicited an “ideal” distribution, according to the opinions of a nationally representative online panel of participants.


We found that the current level of wealth inequality was dramatically underestimated, and that participants’ ideal was even further from the reality. When empowered to design their ideal distribution, participants created societies with far more equality than their (incorrect) perceptions of the actual distribution. Such distributions emerged across political lines and all income levels – despite what political rhetoric may suggest, it appears that we all want a more equitable distribution of wealth than the status quo. 

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