What do Australians think about equality?

15 Jul 2013

To see whether you care about inequality, take this simple test. Would you prefer to be born into a society in which the bottom fifth of households had 1 per cent and the top fifth had 62 per cent of the wealth? Or a society in which the poor had 15 per cent and the rich had 24 per cent?

The first set of numbers is the actual distribution of wealth in Australia. When surveyed about their ideal distribution, though, the majority of respondents wanted the nation to be more egalitarian. Indeed, the second set of figures is the preference of the most affluent.

In part, this is because most people believe that our wealth distribution is considerably more equal than it turns out to be. On average, Australians think that the top fifth has 40 per cent of all wealth (actually 62 per cent), while the bottom fifth has 9 per cent (actually 1 per cent). This isn’t just a mistake that Australians make: a similar survey found that Americans also underestimated their level of wealth inequality. Shown the distributions in Sweden and the United States (without country labels), 92 per cent of US respondents preferred the former…

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