The Misperception of Racial Economic Inequality

Michael W. Kraus*, Ivuoma N. Onyeador, Natalie M. Daumeyer, Julian M. Rucker, Jennifer A. Richeson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Racial economic inequality is a foundational feature of the United States, yet many Americans appear oblivious to it. In the present work we consider the psychology underlying this collective willful ignorance. Drawing on prior research and new evidence from a nationally representative sample of adults (N = 1,008), we offer compelling evidence that Americans vastly underestimate racial economic inequality, especially the racial wealth gap. In particular, respondents thought that the Black–White wealth gap was smaller, by around 40 percentage points in 1963 and around 80 percentage points in 2016, than its actual size. We then consider the motivational, cognitive, and structural factors that are likely to contribute to these misperceptions and suggest directions for future research to test these ideas. Importantly, we highlight the implications of our collective ignorance of racial economic inequality and the challenge of creating greater accuracy in perceptions of these racial economic disparities, as well as outline the steps policymakers might take to create messages on this topic that effectively promote equity-enhancing policies. We close with an appeal to psychological science to at least consider, if not center, the racial patterning of these profound economic gaps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)899-921
Number of pages23
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Economic inequality
  • intergroup relations
  • race/ethnicity
  • racism
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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