Perceptions of inequality

Perceptions of Inequality

This III research programme examines perceptions of inequality and distributions across many domains of life – including income, health, and education. The programme aims to contribute world-class empirical and methodological research on inequality preferences, attitudes, and perceptions, as well as their drivers.

Perceptions of the extent and causes of inequalities are vitally important to the functioning of societies, economies and politics. If the public thinks that inequalities are large and [...] unfair this can undermine faith in political and economic systems as a whole.

Benson, R., Duffy, B., Hesketh, R. and Hewlett, K. (2021), ‘Attitudes to inequalities’

The Programme is led by Professors Frank Cowell and Joan Costa-FontJakob Dirksen is the Programme’s Principal Researcher.

The programme focuses on research themes and questions that concern perceptions of, and attitudes towards, the diverse forms of inequality - such as income, health, and education. Members of the research programme are involved in the study of distributional values and preferences, including behavioural determinants that can explain differences in inequality preferences across societies and social groups.  

The programme’s research agenda includes applied empirical work to advance our understanding of perceptions of inequality and their potential explanations. This is based on indicators of individual attitudes and behaviours, such as interpersonal trust, social identity, ideology, poverty aversion, social cues, reference points, and the fear of being last.

The programme’s members study, for example, the sensitivity of perceptions and attitudes toward inequality to the presence or absence of absolute poverty and deprivation as well as socio-economic mobility – and who exactly is affected by these.

Moreover, of particular interest are well-documented, but less well-explained, gender differences in inequality aversion, including gender effects on risk perceptions and attitudes, trust and pro-social behaviours, locus of control, and time preferences, as well as other behavioural determinants (empathy, guilt, shame, etc). It is thereby also committed to an explicitly intersectional approach that considers additional self-identified reference groups.

The programme also makes methodological contributions that help compare and identify the best techniques to elicit individual and collective perceptions, preferences, and attitudes - spanning experimental methods from psychology, economics, and behavioural science, as well as the use of quantitative and qualitative surveys, and observational techniques from the social sciences.


Frank Cowell, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, LSE

Joan Costa-Font, Professor of Health Economics, Department of Health Policy, LSE 

Jakob Dirksen, Analysing and Challenging Inequalities Scholar, International Inequalities Institute, Department of Social Policy, and CASE/STICERD, LSE & Research and Policy Officer, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, Department of International Development, University of Oxford 

The research programme’s additional academic core members are:

Conchita d’Ambrosio, Professor of Economics, Université du Luxembourg

Miqdad Asaria, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy, LSE

Tania Burchardt, Associate Professor, Department of Social Policy, Associate Director, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion and Deputy Director of STICERD, LSE

Liema Davidovitz, Senior Lecturer, Ruppin Institute

Koen Decancq, Professor, University of Antwerp and Research Fellow, CPNSS, LSE

Matteo Galizzi, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE

Philippe Van Kerm, Professor of Social Inequality and Social Policy, Department of Social Sciences, University of Luxembourg 

Nora Lustig, Samuel Z. Stone Professor of Latin American Economics and Director of the Commitment to Equity Institute, Tulane University

Franoçis Maniquet, Professor of Economics, UC Louvain and Senior Research Scientist, Luxembourg Institute for Socio-Economic Research

Javier Olivera, Professor of Economics, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru, National Bank of Belgium, and Luxembourg Institute for Socio-Economic Research

Erik Schokkaert, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Economics and Business, KU Leuven

Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Associate Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE

Denisa Sologon, Senior Research Scientist, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research

Alan Trannoy, Research Director, EHESS, Aix-Marseille Université