Education Legitimates Income Inequality: Normative Beliefs in Early Post-Communist and Market-oriented Nations
M.D.R. Evans 1  
,   Jonathan Kelley 2  
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University of Nevada
International Survey Center
Publication date: 2017-12-30
Polish Sociological Review 2017;200(4):441–463
Using data from large, representative national samples in in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Australia, Finland, and the Netherlands, we examine moral norms about just rewards for education. Comparing these norms in East Central Europe shortly after Communism—where the dominant ideology was egalitarian, schooling free, rewards to education modest, and alternative investments absent—and in market-oriented societies where the opposite held, provides insight into the influence of institutional arrangements on moral norms. We find that the publics in all these countries favor large rewards for education (which legitimates substantial income inequality), showing that these moral norms are resilient to institutional arrangements. These results align with Aristotle’s claim that people believe job performance merits reward because it makes valuable contributions. They undermine alternative theories: credentialism, radical egalitarianism, and the hegemonic power of dominant political elites. These results also undermine economists’ human capital arguments insofar as they are seen as a moral justification for income inequality.
We thank Guillermina Jasso, Kazimierz M. Słomczynski, Krzysztof Zagórski, and several anonymous reviewers for comments and Claire Kelley for statistical assistance. Earlier versions of portions of this paper were given to seminars at the American Sociological Association; the Australian National University, the University of California, Berkeley; Cornell University; the Johns Hopkins University; the University of Melbourne; the University of Nevada; the Ohio State University, Research Committee 28 of the International Sociological Association; the International Social Survey Programme, and the World Congress of Sociology.