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Economic Inequality and Belief in Meritocracy in the United States

How does the context of income inequality in which people live affect their belief in meritocracy, the ability to get ahead through hard work? One prominent recent study, Newman, Johnston, and Lown (2015), argues that exposure to higher levels of local income inequality lead low-income people to become more likely to reject the dominant U.S. ideology of meritocracy. Here, we show that this sanguine conclusion is not supported by the study's own empirical results and further that analysis of more and better data yields precisely the opposite conclusion. Consistent with relative power theory, among those with lower incomes, local contexts of greater inequality are associated with more widespread belief that people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard.

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Economic Inequality and Belief in Meritocracy in the United States

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