Fairness Preferences and Support for Welfare Policies

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 12:10



Authors – Sören Harrs, Maj-Britt Sterba.

Abstract :

People disagree about what is fair. But how important are fairness preferences for understanding people’s disagreements about welfare polices? And can societal crises change what people view as fair? In this paper we study these questions in a large and representative sample of US Americans in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Fist, we introduce fairness preferences into a simplified Meltzer-Richard model and test its theoretical predictions. We find that fairness preferences – identified using a novel experimental design – are a stronger predictor of people’s support for welfare policies than their income. Fairness preferences also prove to be fundamental because they predict how much weight an individual attaches to beliefs about the causes of inequality. Second, employing individual-level panel data and a complementary experimental manipulation, we find that changes in support for welfare policies during the pandemic are rather caused by changes in beliefs about the causes of inequality or by self-interest than by changes in fundamental fairness preferences. Our results have implications for prominent models in political economy and for understanding the mechanisms shaping people’s demand for fair policies.