People are more likely to be comfortable with extravagant wealth if they see it in individual billionaires, like Warren Buffet and Sergey Brin, rather than in “the 1%” or “the superwealthy”, according to new research.
The public’s tolerance for wealth inequality may depend on who we deem to be sat at the top of the economic ladder, with the public being more tolerant to wealth in the context of individual billionaires, but not within the context of the billionaires’ club.
The eight separate studies were conducted by Cornell and Ohio State University with a total sample size of 2,800 participants. It showed that individuals who are part of “the 1%” but, crucially, who are known to the public received higher support for their wealth than those unknown to the public.
Creating a narrative of personal success
The results also showed that when asked their opinion on prominent billionaires, much like Oprah Winfrey, the public were less supportive of policies for wealth and inheritance tax. This increased when they were faced with “the 1%” as a whole.
The public perceived these individuals as earning their wealth fairly and through hard work and ingenuity. Presumably, it is their personal accounts of success that have faired them so well.
On the other hand, “the 1%” received less public support arguably because the group is faceless, it has no personal touch. It seems well-known individuals’ conscious effort to create a public presence has only benefitted them in how they are perceived, even despite any reputational slip-ups. So, the saying is true: any publicity is good publicity?
With this in mind, it is important to set oneself an individual narrative apart from the rest — whether this is within your industry or amongst others in the high net-worth group.
Individual over team success
The public viewed the riches earned by “the 1%” as being gained through systemic advantages that could only further promote widening income inequality. The scholars who conducted the research believe this evidences our tendency to see internal traits as more responsible for individual successes and failures. In other words, people are more inspired by individual success than team success.
Interestingly, this positive perception was lessened when the public were made aware that an individual benefitted from nepotism or situational attributions (like inheriting a family business).
This only further stresses the need to formulate a narrative around your own personal success. If you take on a family business with an already strong foundation, ensure to establish an individual presence that can set you apart from your predecessor and enable you to have a story of your own.