Social Justice Research

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 217-231

First online:

Ideological stratification: American beliefs about economic justice

  • Norma J. ShepelakAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, Wright State University

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By integrating systematically the common themes in the stratification and justice literatures, researchers have sought to advance our understanding of the role of ideologies in legitimating inequality. This paper examines how beliefs about meritocracy and opportunity in American society relate to the way people think about reducing income differences between the rich and the poor. Using a national sample of U.S. adults (N=1473), we find that the majority of the respondents believe that America has an open system where achievement is tied to individual abilities and educational opportunities. On the other hand the respondents are split in their views on meritocracy, with 50% believing that an individual's high socioeconomic position is reflective of special abilities. The role of ideologies in influencing beliefs about economic justice is direct in that persons who believe in the tenets of equal opportunity and meritocracy are not in favor of reducing income differences between the rich and the poor. Additionally, stratal differences in beliefs about economic justice are seen, with disadvantaged individuals more likely to question the legitimacy of inequality.

Key words

ideologies stratification meritocracy