Research / work in progress

This page contains information about my ongoing research projects, including abstracts and the option to download working papers.

Absolute and relative income stagnation

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Stagnating incomes and preferences for redistribution: The role of absolute and relative experiences

Abstract:

Stagnating incomes have been a widespread concern in advanced democracies over the past decades. However, despite a turn towards dynamic frameworks, the consequences of stagnation on political support for the welfare state are still unclear. This study introduces the distinction between “absolute” and “relative” income stagnation – that is, experiencing stagnating incomes over time without reference to other groups and in relative comparison to other groups – and explores how they shape citizens’ attitudes towards redistribution. I argue that absolute and relative stagnation have opposite effects on redistributive preferences. Contrary to political economy theories, I expect that low absolute income growth reduces demand for redistribution, because it reduces voters’ ability and willingness to afford welfare state policies. Support for this hypothesis is provided in an empirical analysis that combines novel estimates for absolute and relative income stagnation with longitudinal survey data on redistribution preferences in 14 advanced democracies between 1985 and 2018. The distinction between absolute and relative experiences has broader implications for comparative politics research and might contribute to explain why income stagnation and rising inequality have not led to higher political demand for redistributive welfare policy.

Download working paper here (April 2021), paper currently under review. A previous version has been published as LIS Working Paper No. 782.

A related paper titled ‘Multidimensional living standards, multidimensional politics? The electoral consequences of changes in absolute and relative living standards’ is in progress.

Inequality, income-status gaps, and radical voting (with Sarah Engler)

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Abstract:

Despite widespread interest in income inequality, surprisingly few studies explore how the trend towards rising inequality affects electoral transformations of advanced democracies. While rising inequality might benefit support for radical parties in general, why do some voters turn to radical right and others to radical left parties? We conceptualise income inequality as an indicator of broader socio-economic change and argue that the type of political change that voters demand in response to rising inequality depends on where individuals perceive themselves in the social hierarchy. We test our claims in an empirical analysis of 20 Western democracies between 1987-2019. We find that radical left parties draw support from the most deprived groups, while radical right parties attract support from voters with higher subjective social status who perceive a mismatch with their relative economic position. This has important implications for understanding the electoral consequences of rising inequality in advanced democracies.

Download working paper here (May 2021), paper currently under review.

Trends in subjective social status (with Brian Nolan)

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Rising Income Inequality and Subjective Social Status: The Nuanced Relative Status Decline of the Working Class since the 1980s (with Brian Nolan)

Abstract

The declining ‘subjective social status’ of the low-educated working class has been advanced as a prominent explanation for right-wing populism. The working class has certainly been adversely affected by rising income inequality over the past decades, but we do not actually know if their perceived standing in the social hierarchy has declined correspondingly over time. This paper examines trends in subjective social status in two ‘most likely cases’ – Germany and the US – between 1980 and 2018. We find that the subjective social status of the working class has not declined in absolute terms. However, there is evidence for relative status declines of the working class in Germany and substantial within-class heterogeneity in both countries. These findings imply that rising income inequality has a nuanced impact on status perceptions. When assessing the role of subjective social status for political outcomes, longitudinal perspectives that consider both absolute and relative changes seem promising.

Download working paper here (March 2021), paper currently under review

Income stagnation and welfare state retrenchment (with Tim Vlandas)

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Abstract

What is the effect of income stagnation on support for the welfare state? Combining novel data on the evolution of income to existing micro- and macro-level datasets, we argue that stagnation leads to greater support for spending cuts and tax cuts. We develop a simple model linking income stagnation to support for cuts via three distinct mechanisms. Stagnation reduces altruistic motives for welfare state spending, it heightens the relative perceived costs of insurance, and it leads individuals to support tax cuts to compensate for their stagnating incomes. Our micro-level empirical analyses show that individuals facing stagnant or lower incomes support spending cuts and tax cuts to a greater extent. This effect is especially strong among high-income individuals and/or people facing low unemployment risk. At the macro level, these dynamics lead to greater retrenchment in countries with lower income growth. Taken together, our findings link the literature on income stagnation to comparative political economy studies of changing welfare states. They help us make sense of why governments implement (often) economically inefficient spending cuts during economic crises, despite rising risks which should lead to larger welfare states. In contrast to previous literature claiming that the implementation of austerity is the result of democracy being subverted, we show that there are rationally based reasons why some pivotal electoral groups may support retrenchment under conditions of economic stagnation.

Paper available upon request

Trends in redistribution preferences: A new harmonised dataset (with Julia de Romémont and Ali Bargu)

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Abstract

Socio-economic transformations like rising income inequality are expected to have affected individual preferences for redistribution over the past decades. However, different time periods, different items, and scales hamper the ability to compare longitudinal trends. This paper presents a novel harmonised dataset from four cross-national survey projects (ESS, EVS, ISSP, and WVS) in 31 advanced democracies between 1985 and 2019. We explore the trends in redistribution preferences and how they align with the main explanations and expected political consequences from the literature. We estimate counterfactual support for redistribution adjusted for country-specific differences in survey items and answer scales. We find a moderate but significant increase in support for redistribution over the past three decades, with differences in the extent and timing across countries. Standard explanations like rising inequality or differences in the income position explain only a limited share of the trends over time. Redistribution preferences continue to have a strong impact on voting and social policy outcomes. This longitudinal perspective has the potential to combine insights from different strands of the literature in comparative political economy and comparative politics.

Paper available upon request

Technological change and labour market policy preferences

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Abstract:

This chapter explores how technological change shapes three distinct types of labour market policy (LMP) preferences: support for compensatory unemployment benefits, universal basic income, and active labour market policy. Although most theories expect that individuals whose jobs are at risk to be automated demand some form of compensatory policies, prior studies have produced mixed empirical evidence for the relationship between objective automation risk and preferences across different policy areas. Using data from the European Social Survey for 21 democracies in 2016-2017, I first show that there is some overlap between objective risk of automation and subjective risk perceptions, but this overlap is mainly driven by other socio-economic variables. I then find that higher risk of job automation is robustly associated with higher demand for passive LMP, but not associated with active LMP or universal basic income preferences. The association between automation risk and compensatory policy preferences varies significantly across countries and existing labour market policy contexts. Taken together, these findings highlight the heterogeneous and context-dependent relationship between technological change and labour market policy.

Download draft book chapter here (May 2021)