JDP Dilemmas of Inequality Lecture Series
Audience:Restricted to Princeton graduate students, faculty, and fellows
“Americans Vastly Overestimate Racial Economic Equality”
Racial economic inequality is a foundational feature of the United States, yet many Americans appear oblivious to it, believing instead that significant progress toward racial equality has been achieved. We examined the accuracy of perceptions of racial wealth disparities, compared with federal statistics, across a number of studies including in a pre-registered nationally representative sample of 1,008 American adults. We found that Americans vastly underestimate the magnitude of the Black-White wealth gap, particularly now versus when recalling the gap in the past, and these overestimates occur across all levels of family income and education. These misperceptions are, in part, supported by beliefs in societal fairness. Respondents also underestimated the Asian-White and Latinx-White wealth gaps. Such profound misperception of racial wealth disparities presents a significant barrier to efforts to promote societal justice.