Social capital and the reproduction of economic inequality in polarized societies


This paper explores the idea that the distribution of wealth across social groups fundamentally affects the evolution of economic inequality. By providing microfoundations suitable for this exploration, this paper hopes to enhance our understanding of when social forces contribute to the reproduction of economic inequality. In tackling this issue, this paper offers contributions in two domains. First, it models social capital as a real capital asset with direct use and collateral values. Second, it extends the concepts of identity, alienation and polarization originally advanced by Esteban and Ray (Esteban, J.M. and Ray, D.: On the measurement of polarization, Econometrica 62(4) (1994), 819–851). This generalization permits us to consider the multiple characteristics that shape social identity, inclusion and exclusion. It also underwrites a higher-order measure of socio-economic polarization that permits us to explore the hypothesis that economic inequality is most pernicious and persistent when it is socially embedded. Holding constant the initial levels of economic polarization and wealth inequality, we show that higher socio-economic polarization increases subsequent income and wealth inequality. Far from being a distributionally neutral panacea for missing markets, social capital in this model may itself generate exclusion and deepen existing economic cleavages.

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Correspondence to Tewodaj Mogues.

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Mogues, T., Carter, M.R. Social capital and the reproduction of economic inequality in polarized societies. J Econ Inequal 3, 193–219 (2005).

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Key words

  • inequality
  • social capital
  • social collateral
  • socio-economic polarization.

JEL Classifications

  • Z130 – Social Norms and Social Capital
  • O–Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth.