Measurement and Perception of Socioeconomic Inequality
The fight against social and economic inequalities within and between countries is a pressing challenge of the 21st century. Until recently, economic research on inequality has largely focused on comparing the incomes or wealth of individuals or households (i.e., interpersonal or vertical inequality), but with a limited coverage of wealth in developing countries due to data constraints. Only a few studies have focused on categorical or horizontal inequality, which refers to the unequal distribution of socioeconomic outcomes across different groups of people defined by gender, ethnicity, geographical location or religion, though it tends to have more important implications for socio-political stability. Moreover, there is limited research on the perception of horizontal inequality, even though recent research shows that perceived levels of inequality seem to drive redistributive preferences, social stability and political stability more than observed levels.
This doctoral research aims to make the following contributions in four research papers. First, it takes a comprehensive approach to the measurement of horizontal inequality by analyzing a much wider array of dimensions of well-being (including education and health) and categories (including gender, ethnicity, geographical location and religion) across countries over time – allowing for comparisons that are more meaningful. Second, it uses household survey data to extend the literature on wealth inequality to cover a wide range of developing countries. Third, this research extends the new literature on the perception of inequality by doing a cross-country empirical investigation of how perceived levels of horizontal inequality differ from observed levels as well as the extent to which the media could shape public opinion on the level of inequality. Fourth, this research conducts a laboratory experiment in Ghana to predict socioeconomic effects of the role the media (including the social media) play in shaping inequality perceptions.