The individual (mis-)perception of wage inequality: measurement, correlates and implications

  • Andreas KuhnEmail author


This paper presents a simple conceptual framework specifically tailored to measure individual perceptions of wage inequality. Using internationally comparable survey data, the empirical part of the paper documents that there is huge variation in inequality perceptions both across and within countries as well as survey-years. Focusing on the association between aggregate-level inequality measures and individuals’ subjective perception of wage inequality, it turns out that there are both a high correlation between the two measures and a considerable amount of misperception of the prevailing level of inequality. The final part of the analysis shows that subjective inequality perceptions appear to be more important, in a statistical sense, in explaining variation in individual-level attitudes toward social inequality than objective measures of inequality. This underlines the conceptual and practical importance of distinguishing between subjective perceptions of inequality and the true level of inequality.


Inequality perceptions Inequality (Mis-)perceptions of socioeconomic phenomena Attitudes toward social inequality 

JEL Classification

D31 D63 J31 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.

Supplementary material

181_2019_1722_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (213 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 213 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and TrainingUniversity of Bern and IZAZollikofenSwitzerland

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