Social Sampling, Perceptions of Wealth Distribution, and Support for Redistribution

  • Rael J. DawtryEmail author
  • Robbie M. Sutton
  • Chris G. Sibley


Much theorizing in social psychology, economics, and related disciplines has emphasized the role of ideology, self-interest, or other motivational factors in determining how individuals respond to economic inequality. In the present chapter, we outline a complimentary, “bottom-up” approach focusing instead on the role of environmental structure – the structure of wealth distribution itself – in tandem with individuals’ own wealth, in systematically determining perceptions of wealth distribution. This social sampling account entails that, because people are overexposed to similarly wealthy (or poor) others via their day-to-day social environment and extrapolate from these “social samples” to wider society, wealthier persons are prone to perceive greater levels of wealth across society as a whole. This process not only leads to divergence between wealthier and poorer persons’ perceptions of wealth distribution but has important knock-on consequences for their political preferences. We discuss recent evidence showing that social sampling partially explains why wealthier persons tend to favor wealth redistribution less than poorer persons, independently of self-interested or ideological motivation.


Redistribution Social networks Homophily Inequality Self-interest Sampling Socioeconomic status 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rael J. Dawtry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robbie M. Sutton
    • 2
  • Chris G. Sibley
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EssexColchesterUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of KentCanterburyUK
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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