Bernasconi M., Neunhoeffer F. (2020)

The Inequality Trap: How High Stakes Fuel Overestimation and Equality Aversion, vol. ExSIDE working paper



Bringing existing inequality in South Africa (high) and Switzerland (low) to the lab, we study how people’s preferences for redistribution change with the level of income inequality, income mobility, uncertainty of initial income positions, source of income (random or based on real-effort). We find that uncertainty and overconfidence undermine demand for redistribution. The effect magnifies with larger income disparity (South Africa). It further induces a reverse POUM effect: since wealth ambitions of rich aspirants are better preserved under low than under high mobility, demand for redistribution grows in the degree of mobility. These results combined propose an inequality trap: today’s inequality favors income overestimation, winding up less demand for redistribution with less mobility, which propels advanced inequality tomorrow.