Mind the Bricks: Fairness Beliefs and local housing inequality in the UK

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 11:30



Authors – Anna Clemente, Giuliano Formisano.

Abstract :

Rising mortgage costs and rents across Western countries have increased the salience of housing among the public. While housing matters for the politics of redistribution as a form of wealth, its role in informing perceptions of the fairness of the economic system is understudied. As unaffordability increases, people may perceive that even playing by the rules of the economic system is not enough. A local context of wealth inequality, exposing the disparity of rewards, may make salient the sharp differences between winners and losers. We focus on inequality linked to housing prices as an evident example of wealth that is acquired through mechanisms of accumulation based on booming property prices, disconnected from individual effort. We study whether individuals in places where wealth inequality has increased most are more likely to see inequality as unfair and demand more redistribution. We find this is the case in the British context, using survey data and supervised machine learning methods on Twitter data. Where the Gini of housing prices has increased the most, individuals are more likely to advocate for fairness when discussing economic issues. This shows housing matters not only on a material level, but also for structuring beliefs in the fairness of the economic system.

We first establish that places that have seen an increase in wealth inequality are more likely to demand redistribution through survey data linked with housing prices as measured by transactions on the housing market (Suss, 2023). We then investigate whether the mechanism related to fairness is present by looking at Twitter data. We apply supervised machine learning methods based on human annotations to detect whether the tweets are more likely to discuss economic issues using language that advocates for fairness. We find that in areas where housing prices inequality has increased the most, individuals are more likely to adopt frames that advocate for fairness. This outcome aligns with what would be expected if heightened wealth inequality leads to a greater tendency to attribute economic success to structural factors outside of individual control. Results support the interpretation that disparities in housing inequality are linked with increased support for redistribution, justified by arguments grounded on the principle of fairness.