The Vicious Cycle of Economic Inequality: The Role of Ideology in Shaping the Relationship Between “What Is” and “What Ought to Be” in 41 Countries
People’s desired levels of inequality are informed by the levels of inequality they perceive to exist. Perceived economic inequality is used as a reference point in determining people’s ideal level of inequality. However, recent research has suggested that the strength of this relationship depends on people’s endorsement of system-justifying beliefs. The current article extends this body of research by replicating these findings across 41 countries ( N = 42,078), showing the impact of system-justifying beliefs at both the individual and the societal levels. We conducted a multilevel analysis and found that the higher the endorsement of equality of opportunity beliefs—both at the individual and the societal levels—and meritocratic beliefs—at the individual level—the stronger the relationship between perceived and ideal economic inequality. These findings are in support of a motivated account of the perceived legitimacy of economic inequality.