Recherche Axes de recherche Inégalités

Revisiting cross-national variations in preference for redistribution : Attitudes to inequalities, social beliefs, and welfare systems (2017-2019)

Description du programme

The increase of inequalities during the last 3 last decades is now a robust stylized fact. The identification of its causes is more controversial. Although there may be universal mechanisms – such as the one identified by T. Piketty in his famous book – two facts show that there are others that are not universal: 1) the increase is not the same across countries; 2) its perception differs across countries and is paradoxical as it is the most important in Europe, although inequalities have increased the least. Our goal is to explain these two facts by reference to different values across three regions. They are certainly deeply rooted in different cultures. However, our hypothesis is that more than “culture” (which is rarely well defined by economists), social, economic and political history (and, in particular, the historical building of welfare systems) matters. If these values are partly historically determined, it means that they can change. Our purpose is to promote not a convergence between these three regions with so different backgrounds but rather the circulation of ideas through a fruitful dialogue that takes into account our differences. This is a key condition for the emergence of “new values for society” as it has been the case in the postwar period for the human rights.

Inequalities are not bad per se. They may be indeed the outcomes of different efforts or talents at the individual level. Problems arise when they correspond to social reproduction or relations with little relation to one’s merit. This is where the notion of fairness is crucial. It allows justifying a certain level of inequalities. It means that ultimately the perception of inequalities may matter even more that the objective determinants of inequalities, as it directly lead to different levels of redistribution that affect the final outcome.

Our hypothesis is that it is due to different social values. More precisely, although the concept of fairness is absolute in a sense, it takes different forms across countries and history, depending on a set of variables. Past literature, which has focused on a transatlantic perspective, has emphasized the following factors: land, history [particular historical episodes such as revolutions or natural disasters], “culture”, family structure, etc. In this project, we would like to focus on the relations between welfare system, tax system and social values. The US and the European cases have been relatively well studied. Our contribution is to introduce the Japanese case in this comparative framework with the goal to challenge the common wisdom. Japan is different from other countries in the sense that the citizens on average are at the same time both more egalitarian and more conservative than in Western countries (Kluegel & Miyano, 1995). It is certainly one of the reasons of the “puzzling size of the welfare state in Japan” well studied in Takegawa (2010) and that can be also related to the low trust in government.

In order to reach these objectives, we propose a joint research scheme with three characteristics: we built an interdisciplinary and international team that mixes different generations, in order to ensure a good diffusion of knowledge. Our 2 years project is composed of two steps. We agreed that all members would participate to the two steps in order to make possible dialogue between them. The first step is a classical quantitative study from economic and sociological perspectives that mobilize the 2009 edition (as well as other issues) of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) – which is specifically dedicated to the topics of inequalities - together with more focused national surveys. The goal is to quantify the differences between the US, European countries (with a focus on France, but also comparative perspectives with other European countries such as Germany, Italy or Sweden) and Japan in term of preferences for redistribution, social values, average determinants and differences across different socio-economic groups. The dependent variable is the following: “It is the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes”. More precisely, our aim is to test three major hypotheses:

H1: In general, those who are dissatisfied with inequalities tend to favor redistribution, but there is always a gap between the answers to these two questions. The idea here is that there is maybe a missing link between preference for redistribution on one side and social values & individual determinants on the other side. The “satisfaction [or happiness] with the level of inequalities” can be this variable, as it is not completely correlated to the preference for redistribution and as inequalities do affect individual well-being, through two channels - comparative and normative (Clark & D’Amborio, 2014). Moreover, Alesina et al. (2004) show that Europeans and Americans report themselves less happy when inequality is high; however, aversion to inequality is concentrated amongst different ideological and income groups across the two regions.

H2: Demographic-socio-economic characteristics act differently across countries, as determinants of preference for redistribution. H3: Social values act differently across countries, as determinants of preference for redistribution.

Independent variables are therefore the following: 1) Satisfaction with inequalities ; 2) Demographic-socio-economic variables (gender, age, , marital status, type of job, income quartile, education level, Goldthorpe/Erikson/Portocarero (EGP) class schemes, capital structure (home, stock and debts)); 3) Social beliefs: belief that hard work brings success, belief exogenous factors bring success (rich family, parent with good education, political connection, knowing right people). Although our focus is on differences across countries, we do not put aside differences across regions within countries and our goal is to determine which of them are the most relevant. We will also introduce social mobility variables Based on this, we will use a certain number of quantitative techniques in order to identify the differences across countries. It is planned to organize workshops in order to discuss these original results with previous ones and to have interactions with the group of researchers doing more qualitative research (see step 2). The second step will be more qualitative and provide sociological and philosophical interpretations to the observed differences across countries. The basic idea is to relate these differences to the distinctive characteristics of welfare systems. As shown by R. Castel among others, the major purpose of welfare systems is to protect rather than redistribute. However, our hypothesis is that the differences of support for redistribution across groups in various countries are at least partly related to idiosyncratic specificities of national welfare systems. These welfare systems act as institutions that mitigate conflicts within the society without eliminating them (Amable & Palombarini, 2009). Among the various conflicts that are creating cleavages within societies, the ones concerning distribution of income and wealth are certainly the most important. The purpose of this second step is to propose an in-depth study of the welfare background of the support for redistribution in the US, Europe, and Japan, while trying to keep a wider comparative perspective as much as it is possible but in keeping in mind that in-depth analysis cannot be done for all the 44 countries included in the ISSP.

The expected results and effects are of three orders. First, we expect to contribute to the literature on the preference for redistribution by revisiting cross-countries differences in going beyond a transatlantic perspective and in analyzing the differentiated impact of demographic-socio-economic factors and social beliefs across countries. Second, we hope to contribute to the long term analysis of inequalities by including political economy analysis of social values and welfare systems that may explain the different trajectories. In doing so, we are trying to connect two patterns regarding redistribution - facts and beliefs - in challenging the idea that there are only two worlds, across the Atlantic. Our aim is to define the Japanese pattern, which does correspond nor to the American dream neither to the “European pessimism” (Benabou & Tirole, 2006). Finally, our analysis aims at explaining the origin of different social values across the three countries by analyzing the effect of welfare system constructions on social values.


Approches comparatives et pluridisciplinaires sur les inégalités (2013-2016)

Evénements passés

1-12 juillet 2014
Workshop : "Comprendre les inégalités: approches multidisciplinaires et perspectives comparatives
Lieu : Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo
Organisateurs: Fondation France-Japon de l’EHESS & Institute for Social Sciences de l'Université de Tokyo

Participants : Kenji HIRASHIMA (The University of Tokyo), Naofumi NAKAMURA (The University of Tokyo), Shigeki UNO (The University of Tokyo), Yuichiro MIZUMACHI (The University of Tokyo), Takshi FUJITANI (The University of Tokyo), Yuji GENDA (The University of Tokyo), Ryu KANBAYASHI (Hitotsubashi University), Sébastien LECHEVALIER (EHESS), Serge PAUGAM (EHESS), Bernard THOMANN (INALCO), Bénédicte ZIMMERMANN (EHESS)

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