False consciousness or class awareness? Local income inequality, personal economic position, and belief in American meritocracy


Journal Article

Existing research analyzes the effects of cross-national and temporal variation in income inequality on public opinion; however, research has failed to explore the impact of variation in inequality across citizens' local residential context. This article analyzes the impact of local inequality on citizens' belief in a core facet of the American ethos-meritocracy. We advance conditional effects hypotheses that collectively argue that the effect of residing in a high-inequality context will be moderated by individual income. Utilizing national survey data, we demonstrate that residing in more unequal counties heightens rejection of meritocracy among low-income residents and bolsters adherence among high-income residents. In relatively equal counties, we find no significant differences between high- and low-income citizens. We conclude by discussing the implications of class-based polarization found in response to local inequality with respect to current debates over the consequences of income inequality for American democracy.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Newman, BJ; Johnston, CD; Lown, PL

Published Date

  • 2014

Published In

Published By

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1540-5907

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0092-5853

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/ajps.12153


  • eng

Citation Source

  • Scopus