NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Distributional Preferences of Americans

Raymond Fisman, Pamela Jakiela, Shachar Kariv

NBER Working Paper No. 20145
Issued in May 2014
NBER Program(s):Public Economics, Political Economy

We measure the distributional preferences of a large, diverse sample of Americans by embedding modified dictator games that vary the relative price of redistribution in the American Life Panel. Subjects' choices are generally consistent with maximizing a (social) utility function. We decompose distributional preferences into two distinct components - fair-mindedness (tradeoffs between oneself and others) and equality-efficiency tradeoffs - by estimating constant elasticity of substitution utility functions at the individual level. Approximately equal numbers of Americans have equality-focused and efficiency-focused distributional preferences. After controlling for individual characteristics, our experimental measures of equality-efficiency tradeoffs predict the political decisions of our subjects.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20145

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