The Financial Crisis as an American Wakeup Call: American Attitudes to Top Earnings in a Double Comparative Perspective

Andreas Pihl Kjærsgård

    Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalPaper without publisher/journalResearchpeer-review


    Because of their strong commitment to the “American dream” emphasizing that rewards are and should be proportional to effort, Americans are often argued to be exceptionally tolerant of economic inequality per se. In the wake of the financial crisis, revelations of the excessive inequalities in American society and the emergence of the “Occupy-Wall-Street” movement indicate discontent with the situation and question these assumptions. Using data from the International Social Survey Program’s Social Inequality modules I-IV (1987, 1992, 1999 and 2009), the article shows that the financial crisis spurred a dramatic increase in the perceived average level of earnings for the top of society. The Americans of 2009 are in fact, comparatively speaking, exceptionally discontented with this perceived level of top earnings, wishing it reduced by 60%. Random slope multilevel analyses also reveal that this post-crisis hostility is severest among the Americans who most vigorously defend the market-justice ideals of the American dream – that rewards should be proportional to effort. Even if Americans do seem to want the level of top earnings reduced significantly, they do not turn to traditional redistributive policies and the government to help solve the problem. Using earlier research and empirical results, we predict that the hostility spawned by the crisis will have little long-term effect on American attitudes towards wage-inequality, the role of government in addressing the issues, or on the actual policies enacted in the US.
    Translated title of the contributionFinanskrisen som et Amerikansk wakeup call: Amerikanske holdninger til top indkomster i et dobbelt komparativt perspektiv
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2014
    Number of pages41
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    EventAmerican Sociological Association Annual Meeting 2013 - New York, United States
    Duration: 10 Aug 201313 Aug 2013
    Conference number: 108


    ConferenceAmerican Sociological Association Annual Meeting 2013
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityNew York
    Internet address


    • The financial crisis
    • the rich
    • Attitudes to top earnings
    • attitudes to redistribution
    • economic inequality
    • ISSP


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