Norwegians have more positive attitudes towards rich people than expected

Bertil Tungodden, Alexander W. Cappelen, Ingvild Almås and Erik Ø. Sørensen. Photo: Helge Skodvin
The scientific article “Global evidence on the selfish rich inequality hypothesis” is written by the professors (left to right) Bertil Tungodden, Alexander W. Cappelen, Ingvild Almås and Erik Ø. Sørensen, all researchers at the Centre for excellent research FAIR, at NHH. Photo: Helge Skodvin
By Sigrid Folkestad

3 February 2022 14:34

Norwegians have more positive attitudes towards rich people than expected

A new global study from NHH shows that Norwegians have positive attitudes towards the richest among us when compared to other countries. “Norwegians do not think rich people have generated their wealth by being egoistic,” says Professor Bertil Tungodden.

We need to stop believing that Norwegians harbours particulary negative attitudes towards very wealthy people, according to the researchers behind the new study «Global evidence on the selfish rich inequality hypothesis».

The perception of rich people 

“Opposite to what a lot of people believe, Norwegians are not particularly negative towards the very wealthy. We don’t think they have accumulated their wealth by acting egoistically,” says Professor Bertil Tungodden. 

He is Director at FAIR - Centre for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality and Rationality Centre for excellent research FAIR at NHH Norwegian School of Economics, which has status as an SFF - Norwegian Centre of Excellence.

In collaboration with three other researchers Tungodden has performed a global study in more than 60 countries with 26 000 participants. 

The results are now being publish in the American Journal PNAS. 

The researchers aimed to figure out how people around the globe perceive rich people and how this affects their view upon fair distribution.

“Economic inequality is a heated topic for debate all over the world. As is redistribution and tax-policies. We therefor argue that it is very important to uncover people’s attitudes towards the economic elite.

Shapes the perception of redistribution

How we perceive the very rich, shapes our view upon fair distribution, according to the study.

“It will have consequences for where we stand in the debate on taxation. People who believe that very wealthy people has become rich by being egoistic, are more prone to perceive societal inequalities as unfair. They will thus support a more aggressive redistribution policy:”

The study demonstrates that in many countries around the globe people believe that very wealthy people is richer than poor people due to more egoistic behavior. 

“If a society has a very negative perception of very wealthy people, it can be damaging for economic growth and development. If we believe that the rich are rich due to egoism, it may be more demanding to create trust in a society,” according to the NHH professor. 

South America and Southern Europe

While Norwegians tend to accept very wealthy people to a larger degree, the researchers find that majority of people around the globe believes that rich people are egoistic. This view has strongest support in South America, Southern Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia.

People from USA and Canada has least probability to subscribe to the view that rich people have acted without solidarity in their society.  Data from India and Pakistan shows the exact opposite results. 

The research demonstrates that there is systematic variation in the perception of the very wealthy between countries and within the population in the various countries. 

  • People from countries with more widespread corruption and weaker institutions than Norway are more likely to believe that the very wealthy are rich due to egoistic actions and choices.
  • More wealthy and more educated people are less likely to believe this.