Doctoral Dissertation Research: The Wealthy and Stratification Ideologies

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview The rich are getting richer. Trends in income and wealth inequality demonstrate the increasing polarization between the very top and the rest of the distribution, yet there is a paucity of empirical data on the wealthy. The stratification literature discusses the inequality beliefs of ordinary Americans, but we need to find out what the rich know and think about these trends because of their disproportionate influence in the political sphere. If the rich do not believe that inequality is a problem for our country, then it is unlikely that politicians will act to reduce these growing disparities. This dissertation undertakes the first research to illuminate the stratification ideologies of Americans in the top 1% of the wealth distribution (those with net worth above $8 million). The Co-PI has analyzed data from the Survey of Economically Successful Americans and the Common Good (SESA), the first representative survey of the 1%. To complement these survey data, the Co-PI is conducting 120 in-depth interviews with wealthy Americans from across the country. Together, these data will create the most comprehensive existing dataset on the 1%, which the researcher will use to determine what the wealthy believe about the stratification order and their own place in it; where those beliefs come from (i.e. why they believe what they believe); what their preferences are for public and private interventions to ameliorate inequality; and what that implies about the chances for reversing the trend of increasing inequality. Intellectual Merit The wealthy are ripe for attention. There is a robust sociological literature on elites, but it does not concentrate on their stratification beliefs. There is a rich stratification literature, but it does not focus on the affluent. The dissertation will fill this gap and contribute to the field in three important ways. First, it proffers a new theoretical framework to classify the wealthy according to “stratification ideologies,” which depend on an individual’s tolerance for inequality and their beliefs about the causes of unequal outcomes. Second, it will show where these ideologies come from. The researcher hypothesizes that stratification ideologies vary for individuals along two dimensions of privilege: intergenerational wealth transfers and advantages in the labor market. Third, it will show how stratification ideologies are consequential for predicting the future of the economic inequality trend in the U.S. Broader Impacts The data will be used for many academic presentations and publications, and the dissertation will contribute to the fields of economic sociology and political sociology, at the intersection of Sociology and Political Science, with significant applications in the public policy field. The stratification ideologies of the wealthy will have implications for predicting the future of the inequality trends. Political leaders respond to the policy preferences of the affluent (Bartels 2008; Gilens 2012). If many wealthy Americans have a stratification ideology wherein they prefer less inequality and believe that unequal outcomes are due to individual factors as well as systemic barriers and advantages, then there is reason to be optimistic that inequality trends may decline because the wealthy might support some kind of intervention. If the majority of the wealthy have the opposite ideology, tolerating at least as much inequality as currently exists and believing that unequal outcomes are due to individual factors alone, then we may expect inequality to keep
Effective start/end date6/15/145/31/16


  • National Science Foundation (SES-1409232)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.