There is a growing body of work suggesting that social class stereotypes are amplified when people perceive higher levels of economic inequality—that is, the wealthy are perceived as more competent and assertive and the poor as more incompetent and unassertive. The present study tested this prediction in 32 societies and also examines the role of wealth-based categorization in explaining this relationship. We found that people who perceived higher economic inequality were indeed more likely to consider wealth as a meaningful basis for categorization. Unexpectedly, however, higher levels of perceived inequality were associated with perceiving the wealthy as less competent and assertive and the poor as more competent and assertive. Unpacking this further, exploratory analyses showed that the observed tendency to stereotype the wealthy negatively only emerged in societies with lower social mobility and democracy and higher corruption. This points to the importance of understanding how socio-structural features that co-occur with economic inequality may shape perceptions of the wealthy and the poor.
This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant (DP170101008), by the Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (ANID/FONDAL 15130009), by the Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Research (ANID/FONDAP #15110006), and a JSPS KAKENHI grant (19KK0063).
© 2022 The Authors. European Journal of Social Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
- economic inequality
- social class