Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 401–424 | Cite as

Class Isolation and Affluent Americans’ Perception of Social Conditions

  • Adam ThalEmail author
Original Paper


Rising inequality and pro-affluent housing policy have led affluent Americans to become increasingly isolated into neighborhoods that only they are able to afford. I use an under-utilized and unusually large dataset to measure the effects of this isolation on affluent Americans’ perception of social conditions, including crime, healthcare accessibility, joblessness, and public school quality. I find that the affluent form perceptions of such social conditions by extrapolating from the conditions that exist in their own neighborhoods. When these neighborhoods are predominately affluent, offering little hint of the problems faced by the lower classes, the affluent take on perceptions of social conditions that are significantly more positive than the perceptions of everyone else in society. By leading politically and economically powerful affluent Americans to develop the false sense that others’ lives are as problem-free as their own, class isolation may imperil the prospects for improving social conditions in the United States.


Affluent Americans Segregation Isolation Perceptions Social class Inequality 



I would like to thank Tali Mendelberg for her guidance throughout this project, and Martin Gilens for helpful feedback. I would also like to thank Douglas Massey and his co-author Jacob Rugh for providing me with data on class isolation. Finally, I would like to thank Mary Kroeger, Vladimir Medenica, Katherine McCabe, participants in the Princeton American Politics Graduate Research Seminar, and participants in the Princeton American Political Behavior Workshop for their comments. The data and code necessary to replicate the results in this paper are available in the Political Behavior Dataverse:

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9361_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3462 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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