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In capitalist societies, individuals who occupy the highest positions in the economic hierarchy feature prominently in the political discourse under the moniker of the One Percent. However, little is known about how the psychology of One Percent might differ from that of the average person. Using a large, nationally representative sample in New Zealand (N = 14,650), we aimed to fill this gap examining the political attitudes and subjective wellbeing of the top one percent of the income distribution. We found that, compared to general public, the One Percent in New Zealand more strongly legitimize the political and economic systems in society, and express lower support for redistributive taxation. They also report higher life satisfaction, self-esteem and belongingness compared to everyone else. Thus, the One Percent benefit not only economically and politically from the current system, but also psychologically. Moreover, their political beliefs serve to bolster the inequality from which they benefit.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
Journal of Happiness Studies (2019) 20:2125–2140
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-018-0038-4
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RESEARCH PAPER
The Political Attitudes andSubjective Wellbeing oftheOne
Percent
NikhilK.Sengupta1 · ChrisG.Sibley2
Published online: 8 October 2018
© The Author(s) 2018
Abstract
In capitalist societies, individuals who occupy the highest positions in the economic hier-
archy feature prominently in the political discourse under the moniker of the One Percent.
However, little is known about how the psychology of One Percent might differ from
that of the average person. Using a large, nationally representative sample in New Zea-
land (N = 14,650), we aimed to fill this gap examining the political attitudes and subjective
wellbeing of the top one percent of the income distribution. We found that, compared to
general public, the One Percent in New Zealand more strongly legitimize the political and
economic systems in society, and express lower support for redistributive taxation. They
also report higher life satisfaction, self-esteem and belongingness compared to everyone
else. Thus, the One Percent benefit not only economically and politically from the cur-
rent system, but also psychologically. Moreover, their political beliefs serve to bolster the
inequality from which they benefit.
Keywords Inequality· One Percent· Political attitudes· Subjective wellbeing
“We are the 99%”—the rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement—was a call for
society to unite against the disproportionate power of a small group of economic elites:
The One Percent (Occupy Wall Street 2011). This moniker of the One Percent has now
entered the lexicon and become a prominent feature of the political discourse on inequality
in Western democracies (e.g., The Equality Trust 2017; Carroll and Kertscher 2016). The
people to whom this label is applied are argued to be using their influence to bend policy to
their own ends, subverting the democratic process (e.g., Stilgitz 2011).
However, these arguments are currently being made in the absence of data about the
how the political psychology of individuals that constitute this group might differ from
that of the average person. We know very little about how the One Percent view the
political and economic systems under which they live, or how they feel about redistribu-
tive policies designed to reduce inequality. These are important gaps because claims
* Nikhil K. Sengupta
nikhil.sengupta@psy.ox.ac.uk
1 Department ofExperimental Psychology, University ofOxford, South Parks Rd,
OxfordOX13UD, UK
2 School ofPsychology, University ofAuckland, Auckland, NewZealand
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N.K.Sengupta, C.G.Sibley
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about how the One Percent exercise their power depend upon claims about their politi-
cal attitudes as a group (see Gilens 2005). We aim to fill these gaps by comparing the
political attitudes of the One Percent in New Zealand to the general population, using
a large, representative sample (N = 14,650; see Table1 for a comparison between New
Zealand’s One Percent and the One Percent in other major economies).
Several theories in social psychology propose that the political attitudes of (particu-
larly) members of advantaged groups align with their own group’s interests—i.e., they
hold beliefs about the political and economic system that help maintain their own domi-
nance within it (Sidanius and Pratto 1999; Rubin and Hewstone 2004). These perspec-
tives would suggest that, having benefitted from the current political and economic sys-
tems, the One Percent would be more supportive of these systems and more opposed to
policies that threaten their economic power.
On the other hand, there appears to be an increasing acknowledgement of the prob-
lem of inequality among the class of economic elites (Buffet 2011; WEF 2015), which
undermines the common-sense notion that the One Percent will inevitably hold politi-
cal beliefs that benefit their own group at the expense of everyone else. Indeed, System
Justification Theory proposes that often it is not the most advantaged, but the most dis-
advantaged who show the strongest support for unequal systems (Jost etal. 2003; cf.
Brandt 2013). Therefore, more data is needed about how much the political attitudes of
the One Percent differ from the general population and in which direction.
The extant literature is sparse and difficult to interpret. For example, an analysis of 397
individuals falling in the top one percent of income earners in the US found that higher pro-
portion identified as ‘Republican’ (57%) compared to the rest of the population (44%), while
a similar proportion identified as ‘Conservative’ (39% versus 40%; Saad 2011a). Another
study, involving 83 of Chicago’s wealthiest one percent, found that a higher percentage sup-
ported economically conservative policies than the percentages of people who supported
such policies in a different general population survey (Page et al. 2013). However, both
these studies are problematic. The former includes rather crude measures of political atti-
tudes, while the latter is extremely limited in both its sampling frame and sample size. We
aim to improve on these findings by testing more specific political attitudes in a representa-
tive national sample in New Zealand that includes a large number of ‘One Percenters’.
This large, representative sample also allows us to compare the subjective wellbeing of
the One Percent to the general population—another issue which has important implications
Table 1 The One Percent in
New Zealand and around the
world Source: World Inequality
Database (2018)
Incomes are in US Dollars calculated based on the market exchange
rate and refer to earnings in 2014
Bolded text signifies the country in which the current research was
conducted
Country Income thresh-
old (USD)
Average
income (USD)
Share of total
income (%)
USA 283,749 869,175 20.4
UK 168,678 393,957 13.9
Australia 182,185 360,163 9.1
New Zealand 147,705 254,462 8.1
France 105,557 197,730 8.1
China 27,449 59,031 11.4
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for societal inequality but suffers from a scarce data and contradictory theoretical accounts.
One strand of research that falls under the rubric of “Livability Theory” (see Veenhoven
1995) suggests that income does not predict wellbeing for people who are already fairly
well-off. Evidence for this idea comes from cross-national studies showing no increases
in national-level wellbeing once per capita income rises beyond USD 10,000 (Frey and
Stutzer 2002; Helliwell 2003). Similarly, for people living in wealthy nations, large changes
in national income across time have not been found to produce corresponding increases in
wellbeing (Easterlin 1995; Oswald 1997).
On the other hand, robust effects of income on wellbeing have been found at the individ-
ual level, even at the upper ends of the income distribution in wealthy nations (see Easterlin
2001 for a review). However, the national surveys used to investigate these effects usually
measure income using broad categories, the uppermost of which are not extreme enough to
capture subjective wellbeing among the One Percent (e.g., Kahneman and Deaton 2010).
A notable exception is a study by Diener etal. (1985b) that sampled super-rich individuals
from the Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans and found that they were more satisfied with
their lives than a matched control group from the same geographical area.
Understanding whether the One Percent do indeed have higher wellbeing than everyone
else is particularly important because there are pervasive beliefs in society that belonging
to high-status groups comes with certain downsides (Jost etal. 2005)—e.g., the wealthy
incur a psychological cost for their wealth. These beliefs can function to legitimize inequal-
ity, making it harder to reduce it (Kay and Jost 2003). Therefore, in addition to examining
the political attitudes of the One Percent, the present study will also examine their subjec-
tive wellbeing.
Thus, we aim to shed light on both the top-down and bottom-up processes that maintain
inequality in society by examining, in the New Zealand context, whether (a) the elites have
political preferences that exacerbate inequality, and (b) the beliefs about the elites held by
the general public are accurate, or merely myths that further entrench existing inequality.
We are able to fulfill these aims better than previous national surveys because instead of
asking people to place themselves in one of a limited number of income categories, we
asked them to report their income in an open-ended format, allowing us to better capture
the extremes of the income distribution.
Specifically, in the political domain, we compare levels of three types of political atti-
tudes that are relevant to the societal discourse on inequality—belief in the legitimacy of
the political system, belief in the legitimacy of the economic system, and opposition to
redistributive taxation—between the “One Percent”, the “Rest of the Top 5%” and “Eve-
ryone Else” (see Table2 for sample demopgrahics for these three income categories). We
included people who fall in the Top 5% of the income distribution (while not reaching
the level of the One Percent) to as an additional comparison group to see whether those
on extremely high incomes differed from those who were merely on very high incomes.
Despite the contradictory theoretical accounts (e.g. Jost etal. 2003; cf. Sidanius and Pratto
1999), the sparse evidence that currently exists (e.g., Page etal. 2013) points to the One
Percent holding political preferences that exacerbate inequality. Based on this, we predict
that the One Percent will show higher levels of belief in the legitimacy of the political and
economic systems, as well higher opposition to redistributive taxation than the “Rest of the
Top 5%” and “Everyone Else”.
In the wellbeing domain, we compare levels of three indices of subjective wellbeing—
life satisfaction, self esteem and felt belongingness—between the same three income cat-
egories. Despite the fact that prior studies have not been able to isolate the extreme upper
end of the income distribution, the pattern of effects of income on wellbeing (e.g., Diener
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etal. 1985a, b) suggest that people on higher incomes experience greater wellbeing. Based
on this, we predict that the One Percent will show higher life satisfaction, self esteem, and
belongingness than the “Rest of the Top 5%” and “Everyone Else”.
1 Method
1.1 Procedure
The NZAVS is an ongoing 20-year longitudinal national probability study of social atti-
tudes, personality, and health outcomes that started in 2009. Each year, participants are
posted a copy of the questionnaire, with a second postal follow-up 2 months later. Par-
ticipants who provided an email address were also emailed and invited to complete an
online version if they preferred. Detailed information about the sampling procedures, over-
all retention rates, demographic characteristics, and items included in the NZAVS ques-
tionnaires are provided on the NZAVS website (Sibley 2015). The NZAVS performs well
in terms of representativeness (for more information see Sibley 2014), but oversamples
women by about 10%, under-samples people in their 20s, and those of Asian ethnicity.
Here, we draw data from Time 6 (2014/15) of the NZAVS, which contained responses
from 15,822 participants. We chose Time 6 because it had the largest sample size of any
wave for which all target measures were available.
1.2 Measures
1.2.1 Income
Personal income was measured using an open-ended item that asked “Please estimate
your own personal earnings (before tax) for the year 2014”. For the purposes of the cur-
rent analysis we divided people into three groups based on their self-reported personal
income: The “One Percent”, the “Rest of the Top 5%” and “Everyone else” (i.e. the bottom
95% of the income distribution). The income thresholds for being categorized into each
group were determined using data from Inland Revenue Department, which provides the
Table 2 Sample demographics for the three income categories being compared in the present study
One Percent Rest of the Top 5% Everyone else
Income threshold (NZD) ≥ 200,000 106,000–199,000 0–105,000
Mean income (NZD) 312,400 135,858 43,666
Median income (NZD) 250,000 130,000 42,000
Mean age (years) 51.37 50.00 48.93
Gender (% women) 23.0% 35.0% 66.4%
Education (% university graduates) 41.6% 34.0% 41.1%
Ethnicity
% European 90.0% 88.4% 80.5%
% Maori 6.6% 8.5% 12.6%
% Pacific Islanders .6% 1.0% 2.7%
% Asian 2.8% 2.1% 4.1%
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income distribution for approximately 3.6 million taxpayers in New Zealand year on year
from 2001 to 2014 (IRD 2015). Using data from 2014 (which pertained to income earned
between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014) we determined that the One Percent of income
earners were those who earned NZD 200,000 or more and the Top 5% of income earners
were those who earned NZD 106,000 or more in the preceding year.
1.2.2 Political Attitudes
Perceived legitimacy of the political system was measured using four items adapted from
Kay and Jost’s (2003) General System Justification scale. This 8-item scale is the most
widely used scale for measuring political legitimacy (see Jost etal. 2012 for a review).
However, the scale has not been evaluated for its psychometric properties, and so there
was no clear empirical criterion for selecting the smaller number of items to include in our
short scale. Thus, we adapted the four items from the original scale that were most appli-
cable to the New Zealand context: “In general, the New Zealand political system operates
as it should”, “In general, I find New Zealand society to be fair”, “Everyone has a fair shot
at wealth and happiness in New Zealand” and “Most of New Zealand’s policies serve the
greater good”. This selection of items showed good internal reliability (α = .75) and have
also been used in past research demonstrating good construct validity (Osborne and Sibley
2013; Vargas-Salfate etal. 2018a, b).
Perceived legitimacy of the economic system was measured one item taken from the
Economic System Justification scale developed by Jost and Thompson (2000). As with
political legitimacy, there is no well validated scale for measuring economic legitimacy,
and so selecting an item from an existing scale was the best remaining option. Although
the items on Jost and Thompson’s (2000) original scale are rather heterogenous, the social
psychological literature on how people appraise the legitimacy of outcomes suggests that
people can either make internal or external attributions for outcomes (e.g., Hewstone 1989;
Jost and Major 2001). In the economic domain, this means making internal or external
attributions for the distribution of economic resources—i.e., that economic outcomes
reflect either people’s own merits, or instead, have structural causes (see Bullock etal.
2003). We selected the one item from the Economic System Justification scale that we felt
best captured this type of attributional appraisal of economic outcomes: “Economic posi-
tions are legitimate reflections of people’s achievements”.
Support for redistributive taxation was measured by asking for people’s degree of sup-
port versus opposition to the following policy: “Redistributing money and wealth more
evenly among a larger percentage of the people in New Zealand through heavy taxes on
the rich”. This item was adapted from a Gallup Poll question that has been administered to
thousands of Americans every year from 1999 to 2011 (Saad 2011b).
1.2.3 Subjective Wellbeing
Life satisfaction was measured using the following two items: “I am satisfied with my
life” and “In most ways my life is close to ideal” (r = .70). These items were selected by
taking the two items that showed the highest factor loadings on the latent construct from
the 5-item Satisfaction with Life Scale as reported in the scale-validation study by Diener
etal. (1985a). This short version of the scale has been used extensively in prior research,
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demonstrating excellent construct validity (Girme etal. 2016; Greaves etal. 2017; Osborne
etal. 2016; Sibley and Bulbulia 2015; Stronge etal. 2016a, b).
Self-esteem was measured using the following three items: “On the whole am satisfied
with myself”, “Take a positive attitude toward myself” and “Am inclined to feel that I am
a failure”. These items were selected by taking the two highest-loading pro-trait items and
the highest-loading con-trait item from Rosenberg’s (1965) self-esteem scale as reported in
a large-scale principal components analysis conducted on a New Zealand sample (in addi-
tion to samples from 52 other countries; Schmitt and Allik 2005). This three-item version
of the scale showed excellent internal reliability (α = .80). Moreover, the construct valid-
ity of this scale can be established by the fact that it has been used extensively in prior
research, yielding the expected correlations with other theoretically relevant constructs
(e.g., Greaves etal. 2017; Lee and Sibley 2017; Manuela and Sibley 2014; Matika etal.
2017; Osborne etal. 2015; Stronge etal. 2016a; Waddell etal. in press).
Belongingness was measured using the following three items: “Know that people in my
life accept and value me”, “Feel like an outsider” and “Know that people around me share
my attitudes and beliefs”. Selecting items for the belongingness scale was less straightfor-
ward than the other two wellbeing constructs because the study in which the scale was first
presented did not provide factor loadings for the individual items on the scale (Cutrona and
Russell 1987). However, a subsequent validation study by Mancini and Blieszner (1992)
did provide this information. Based on this analysis, we chose the highest-loading item
from the ‘social integration’ subscale and the highest-loading item from ‘reassurance of
worth’ subscale. In addition we developed a con-trait item that we thought best captured
the lack of belongingness connoted by the con-trait items on the original scale (i.e., “I feel
like an outsider”). This item was preferred because it captured a more general sense of
social exclusion than the con-trait items on the original scale, which were more specific
in content (e.g., “There is no one I can turn to for guidance in times of stress”; “Other
people do not view me as competent”). This three-item version of the scale showed good
internal reliability (α = .71). This scale has also been used in prior research, showing good
construct validity (Stronge etal. 2015; Greaves etal. 2017). All dependent variables were
rated on scales that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree/strongly oppose) to 7 (strongly agree/
strongly support).
1.3 Participants
The participants in this analysis were the approximately 14,600 individuals from the
NZAVS Time 6 (2014/15) who had provided information on the relevant measures. This
number is approximate because the exact sample size varied for each analysis depending
on the number of people who had responded to the items that constituted the dependent
variable in each analysis. In all, personal income data was available for 14,648 individuals
and therefore it was these individuals who were subsequently categorized into the “One
Percent”, “Rest of the Top 5%” and “Everyone Else” groups. Of these, 326 participants
(i.e., 2.2%) fell into the One Percent category, 1170 participants (i.e., 8.0%) fell into the
Rest of the Top 5% category and the remaining 13,152 participants (i.e., 89.8%) fell into
the Everyone Else category (based on the income thresholds described above). Thus, the
NZAVS Time 6 (2014/15) oversampled the Top 1% and Top 5% of the income distribution.
As shown in Table2, in the One Percent category, 77% were male, 41.6% had a Uni-
versity degree, and 90% were New Zealand European (with 6.6% being Maori, .6%
being Pacific Islanders and 2.8% being Asian). The mean age of this group 51.37years
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(SD = 8.87). Of the Rest of the Top 5%, 65% were male, 34% had a University degree, and
88.4% were New Zealand European (with 8.5% being Maori, 1.0% being Pacific Islanders
and 2.1% being Asian). The mean age of this group was 50.00years (SD = 9.35). Of Every-
one Else, 34.1% were male, 41.1% had a University degree, and 80.5% were New Zealand
European (with 12.6% being Maori, 2.7% being Pacific Islanders and 4.1% being Asian).
The mean age of this group was 48.93years (SD = 14.21).
1.4 Analysis Plan
We propose to conduct six one-way ANOVAs to test for mean differences in the three indi-
ces of well-being (Life Satisfaction, Self-Esteem and Belongingness) and the three kinds
of political attitudes (Legitimacy of the Political System, Legitimacy of the Economic Sys-
tem and Support for Redistributive Taxation) between the three income categories (i.e. ‘the
One Percent,’ ‘the Rest of the Top 5%’ and ‘Everyone Else’).
2 Results
Results of the six one-way ANOVAs are summarized in Fig.1. Descriptive statistics and
correlations between all variables used in these ANOVAs are presented in Table3. Effects
sizes for each mean difference tested are presented in Table4. We selected a more con-
servative critical alpha of p = .01 due to the large sample size.
2.1 Political Attitudes
2.1.1 Legitimacy ofthePolitical System
The one-way ANOVA testing for differences in the perceived legitimacy of the politi-
cal system between the three income categories was significant (F (2, 14,599) = 124.26,
p < .001). Bonferonni post hoc tests revealed that the One Percent (M = 5.11, SD = .98,
95% CI [5.00, 5.22]) perceived the political system to be significantly more legitimate on
average than the Rest of the Top 5% (M = 4.82, SD = 1.06, 95% CI [4.76, 4.88], p < .001,
Cohen’s d = .26) and Everyone Else (M = 4.41, SD = 1.15, 95% CI [4.39, 4.43], p < .001,
Cohen’s d = .62). The Rest of the Top 5% perceived the political system to be more legiti-
mate on average than Everyone Else (p < .001, Cohen’s d = .36).
2.1.2 Legitimacy oftheEconomic System
The one-way ANOVA testing for differences in the perceived legitimacy of the eco-
nomic system between the three income categories was significant (F (2, 14,146) = 22.90,
p < .001). Bonferonni post hoc tests revealed that the One Percent perceived the economic
system to be significantly more legitimate on average (M = 3.89, SD = 1.72, 95% CI [3.70,
4.08]) than the Rest of the Top 5% (M = 3.54, SD = 1.67, 95% CI [3.44, 3.63], p = .002,
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Cohen’s d = .21) and Everyone Else (M = 3.37, SD = 1.67, 95% CI [3.31, 3.37] p < .001,
Cohen’s d = .33). The Rest of the Top 5% perceived the economic system to be more legiti-
mate than Everyone Else (p = .001, Cohen’s d = .12).
Fig. 1 Boxplots showing the means and distributions of the three types of political attitudes (left panel) and
the three subjective wellbeing indicators (right panel) among the One Percent, the Rest of the Top 5% and
Everyone Else
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2.1.3 Opposition toRedistributive Taxation
The one-way ANOVA testing for differences in opposition to redistributive taxation
between the three income categories was significant (F (2, 14,370) = 171.13, p < .001).
Bonferonni post hoc tests revealed that the One Percent were significantly more opposed
Table 3 Descriptive statistics and correlations between all variables
*p < .01
1 234567
1. Income (in 1000s)
2. Legitimacy of the political system .13*
3. Legitimacy of the economic system .05* .42*
4. Opposition to redistributive taxation .14 * .45* .32*
5. Life satisfaction .11* .33* .08* .14*
6. Self esteem .10* .23* .05* .08* .63*
7. Belongingness .06* .22* .06* .08* .52* .63*
M57.37 4.45 3.36 3.62 5.24 5.25 5.09
SD 71.92 1.14 1.67 2.07 1.17 1.20 1.02
Table 4 Effect sizes for the mean differences between the three income categories on all dependent vari-
ables
Dependent variable Comparison Cohen’s d95% CI
low high
Legitimacy of the political system One Percent–Rest of the Top 5% .26 .14 .38
One Percent–Everyone else .62 .51 .73
Rest of the Top 5%–Everyone else .36 .30 .42
Legitimacy of the economic system One Percent–Rest of the Top 5% .21 .09 .34
One Percent–Everyone else .33 .22 .44
Rest of the Top 5%–Everyone else .12 .05 .18
Support for redistributive taxation One Percent–Rest of the Top 5% .21 .09 .34
One Percent–Everyone else .66 .55 .77
Rest of the Top 5%–Everyone else .45 .39 .51
Life satisfaction One Percent–Rest of the Top 5% .24 .11 .36
One Percent–Everyone else .50 .39 .61
Rest of the Top 5%–Everyone else .26 .20 .32
Self esteem One Percent–Rest of the Top 5% .20 .08 .32
One Percent–Everyone else .47 .36 .58
Rest of the Top 5%–Everyone else .27 .21 .33
Belongingness One Percent–Rest of the Top 5% .19 .07 .31
One Percent–Everyone else .31 .20 .42
Rest of the Top 5%–Everyone else .11 .05 .17
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redistributive taxation on average (M = 4.84, SD = 1.88, 95% CI [4.63, 5.05]) than the
Rest of the Top 5% (M = 4.44, SD = 1.95, 95% CI [4.34, 4.55], p = .006, Cohen’s d = .21)
and Everyone Else (M = 3.59, SD = 1.87, 95% CI [3.56, 3.62], p < .001, Cohen’s d = .66).
The Rest of the Top 5% were significantly less supportive of redistributive taxation than
Everyone Else (p < .001, Cohen’s d = .45).
2.2 Subjective Wellbeing
2.2.1 Life Satisfaction
The one-way ANOVA testing for differences in life satisfaction between the three income
categories was significant (F (2, 14216) = 71.98, p < .001). Bonferonni post hoc tests
revealed that the One Percent had significantly higher life satisfaction on average (M = 5.79,
SD = .86, 95% CI [5.70, 5.88]) than the Rest of the Top 5% (M = 5.51, SD = .90, 95% CI
[5.46, 5.56], p = .001, Cohen’s d = .24) and Everyone Else (M = 5.21, SD = 1.20, 95% CI
[5.19, 5.23], p < .001, Cohen’s d = .50). The Rest of the Top 5% also had significantly
higher life satisfaction on average than Everyone Else (p < .001, Cohen’s d = .26).
2.2.2 Self‑Esteem
The one-way ANOVA testing for differences in self-esteem between the three income cat-
egories was significant (F (2, 14598) = 72.13, p < .001). Bonferonni post hoc tests revealed
that the One Percent had significantly higher self-esteem on average (M = 5.77, SD = .97,
95% CI [5.66, 5.88]) than the Rest of the Top 5% (M = 5.53, SD = 1.02, 95% CI [5.47,
5.59], p = .004, Cohen’s d = .20) and Everyone Else (M = 5.20, SD = 1.21, 95% CI [5.18,
5.22], p < .001, Cohen’s d = .47). The Rest of the Top 5% also had significantly higher self-
esteem on average than Everyone Else (p < .001, Cohen’s d = .27).
2.2.3 Belongingness
The one-way ANOVA testing for differences in belongingness between the three income
categories was significant (F (2, 14,598) = 21.13, p < .001). Bonferonni post hoc tests
revealed that the One Percent felt a significantly higher sense of belongingness on average
(M = 5.38, SD = .86, 95% CI [5.29, 5.48]) than the Rest of the Top 5% (M = 5.19, SD = .89,
95% CI [5.14, 5.24], p = .006, Cohen’s d = .19) and Everyone Else (M = 5.07, SD = 1.03,
95% CI [5.05, 5.09], p < .001, Cohen’s d = .31). The Rest of the Top 5% also felt a sig-
nificantly higher sense of belongingness on average than Everyone Else (p = .001, Cohen’s
d = .11).
3 Discussion
The very nature of the group—i.e., small and affluent—makes the One Percent extremely
difficult to survey. Huge representative samples are required to capture large enough num-
bers of One Percenters to enable meaningful analyses. Moreover, the types of national sur-
veys that do have the requisite sample size often do not assess income with enough preci-
sion to isolate the One Percent (e.g., Kahneman and Deaton 2010). As a result, we know
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very little about this group, despite the fact that it features prominently in the political dis-
course of many Western nations. We were able to take a step towards filling this gap in the
present study.
We found that One Percent in New Zealand believe more strongly in the legitimacy
of the political and economic systems that govern society and express lower support for
the inequality-reducing policy of redistributive taxation. These findings are consistent with
self- and group-interest theories in psychology, which suggest that people hold political
beliefs that align with their desire to advance their own position (e.g., Sidanius and Pratto
1999; Rubin and Hewstone 2004).
These results also provide evidence for a core assumption underlying much of the politi-
cal discourse about the One Percent. This discourse holds that the concentration of wealth
in the hands of the One Percent is corrosive for democracy because they use their political
influence to maintain the inequality from which their group benefits (e.g., Stilgitz 2011).
This argument appears to be supported by the finding that the types of policies that are
implemented in democratic societies correlate more strongly with the policy preferences
of economic elites than with those of the general public, especially when the preferences
of these groups diverge (Gilens 2005). However, the missing piece in this narrative was
whether the political attitudes of the elites do, in fact, diverge from the general public in a
direction that would maintain existing inequality. By showing that this is indeed the case,
our study helps explain part of the top-down process through which inequality is main-
tained in free-market democracies.
We are also able to speak to the bottom-up process that maintains inequality—i.e., the
legitimizing myths held by the general public that prevent them from challenging inequality
(Jost and Hunyady 2005). One of these myths is that no group in society ‘has it all’—some
people might be poor, but they are happy, and those that are rich are probably unhappy
(Kay and Jost 2003). Indeed, beliefs about the unhappy rich are not confined merely to lay
opinions. Much of the psychological literature on wellbeing also advances the notion that
not only does money not buy happiness (e.g., Diener and Seligman 2004; Csikszentmihalyi
1999), it positively impedes the pursuit of happiness—inculcating a materialistic ethic that
increases stress and relationship conflict, while lowering self-esteem, empathy, intrinsic
motivation and sociality (Kasser etal. 2004; Vohs etal. 2008).
Whether or not high-earners face these kinds of tribulations, our findings suggest that
they are still able to maintain levels of life-satisfaction, self-esteem and belongingness that,
on average, outstrip not just the general population but even the fairly well-off (i.e., the
‘Rest of the Top 5%’). Being in the One Percent seems to benefit people not only economi-
cally and politically, but also psychologically. One group can have it all.
3.1 Limitations
Here, we operationalized the One Percent category using the distribution of personal
income rather than household income or wealth. Wealth inequality in Western nations is
even more severe that income inequality, and that therefore, the ‘true’ elites are not neces-
sarily those on high incomes, but the very wealthy (Piketty 2014). However, as difficult as
it is to survey the upper echelons of the income distribution, it is even more difficult to sur-
vey those with large fortunes, or even to get them to report their wealth in questionnaires
(see Page etal. 2013 for a discussion). Therefore, until data on the wealthy are available
we must rely on data from high-earners to understand elite opinion on our societies. We
were also unable to use household income because no data exists in New Zealand that is
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N.K.Sengupta, C.G.Sibley
1 3
fine-grained enough to isolate the Top 1% of the household-income distribution. However,
detailed information on the personal income of every New Zealand taxpayer is available
(IRD 2015).
Our findings are also limited by the fact that we have not utilized fully validated measure-
ment instruments for any of the constructs in our analysis. There are two reasons for this. First,
the empirical literature on some constructs we sought to measure (e.g., political legitimacy)
does not include the of use consistent, validated measurement instruments (see Sengupta
2016; p. 24, 27). Second, constructs for which well-validated scales do exist (e.g., self-esteem)
are measured using scales that are too long to be viable for a large-scale, longitudinal, survey
designed to measure hundreds of socially-important constructs.
As a result there is considerable variation in the empirical and conceptual strength of the
criteria we could implement for each selection being made. However, the fact that we obtained
the same pattern of effects across measures for which we had more robust item-selection cri-
teria, and measures for which we had less robust criteria, gives us greater confidence that our
findings reflect the true relationship between income and the two second-order constructs
in our study—i.e., subjective wellbeing and political attitudes. Moreover, all but one of the
measures (i.e., economic legitimacy) have already been used extensively in their current forms
demonstrating excellent construct validity (e.g., Manuela and Sibley 2014; Osborne et al.
2016; Osborne and Sibley 2013; Stronge etal. 2015; Saad 2011b).
Nevertheless, there is a need for future research that uses more comprehensive measures to
assess the relationships tested here. The need for more research is highlighted by the fact that,
despite the limitations of our measures, our analysis provides a more comprehensive picture
of the political attitudes and wellbeing of the upper end of the income distribution than exist-
ing studies. For example, coarse-grained income measures and a disproportionate focus on
one particular dimension of wellbeing (i.e., life-satisfaction; see Diener and Oishi 2000) have
resulted in a very limited current understanding of the wellbeing of the One Percent.
The breadth and validity of measurement in the political domain is even more constrained.
For example, the only analyses of the political attitudes of the extremely well-off, to date, have
used either a single, dichotomous measure of conservative versus liberal self-identification
(Saad 2011a), or nominal scales measuring support for specific policy proposals (Page etal.
2013). Therefore, the present study represents an important incremental step in our under-
standing of the political psychology of an important but under-researched group.
Finally, the fact that our data come from one country—New Zealand—might limit the
broader relevance of our findings. However, New Zealand is extremely similar to other West-
ern nations in which debates about inequality and the One Percent are currently raging. For
example, it has a highly developed free-market economy (Miller and Kim 2015), robust demo-
cratic institutions (EIU 2016), and a recent history of neoliberal economic policies that have
been blamed for rising inequality since the 1980s, in a similar way to Thatcherism in the UK
and Reagonomics in the US (Marcetic 2017).
Moreover, as one of the most unequal countries in the OECD (OECD 2017), New Zea-
land’s One Percent represent the same class of economic elites that are referred to in the politi-
cal discourse of other capitalist societies (and accrue very similar sociopolitical advantages as
a result of this elite status; see Table1). Therefore, to the extent that the differences in politi-
cal attitudes and wellbeing reported here are a function of group status, there is no reason to
expect a substantively different pattern of results in other Western countries.
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The Political Attitudes andSubjective Wellbeing oftheOne…
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4 Conclusion
For the first time, our study has documented how the political attitudes and subjective well-
being of the One Percent differ from the rest of the population. We found that, in New
Zealand, this group shows higher inequality-enhancing political preferences and higher
subjective wellbeing than the general public. Thus, we have taken the first step towards
understanding the psychology of societal elites, and consequently, the processes by which
inequality is maintained in free-market democracies.
Acknowledgements The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study is supported by a grant from the Tem-
pleton Religion Trust (TRT0196). This study is also supported by a Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual
Fellowship awarded to Nikhil Sengupta (ID: 703316).
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Interna-
tional License (http://creat iveco mmons .org/licen ses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the
source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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