Northwestern University

Thu 4:00 PM

Psychology Colloquium Series: Inequality and Subjective Status: Why Economic Inequality is More Than Economics

When: Thursday, May 31, 2018
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM  

Where: Swift Hall, 107, 2029 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Andrew Dennewitz   847.467.5027

Group: Department of Psychology

Category: Academic


Dr. Keith Payne, of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will speak at Northwestern as part on the Department of Psychology’s Colloquium Series.

Inequality and Subjective Status: Why Economic Inequality is More Than Economics

Income inequality is rising in advanced economies around the world, and especially the United States. Epidemiological evidence suggests that higher inequality is associated with a range of poor health and social outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, unintended pregnancies, drug overdoses, violent crime, and higher mortality rates. These outcome involve individual lives and individual behaviors, but inequality is a macroeconomic property of the income distribution, not individuals. The pathways by which macroeconomic inequality affects individual lives are not well understood. I present a framework for understanding this pathway based on the fact that people judge their own needs and socioeconomic status by comparison to others. In this way, subjective status plays a key role linking economic inequalities to individual behavior. I describe evidence from behavioral experiments, “big data” investigations, and agent-based simulations showing how inequality changes subjective perceptions and behavior. As a result, inequality increases risky behavior, which leads to a variety of poor health and social outcomes. Given these problems, it seems intuitive that rising inequality would motivate voters to support policies to reduce inequality. However, inequality also shifts perceptions of merit and fairness, in ways that lead voters to oppose redistributive policies. These studies highlight psychological reasons that inequality can create outcomes that look like poverty, even for people who are not poor.

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