Graduates ‘more likely to oppose redistribution of income’

New research challenges narrative that in recent political battles, university leavers have tilted to the left

February 11, 2018
Robin Hood
Source: Alamy

In the political fractures that have opened up in Western countries over Brexit, Donald Trump and nationalism, graduates are generally seen to have played a relatively left-wing, liberal role, supporting politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Jeremy Corbyn.

But on one crucial issue they are decidedly anti-progressive, a new analysis has found: graduates are far less likely to support income redistribution from the rich to the poor.

In every country examined by new research into social cohesion, tertiary graduates were much less likely to agree with redistribution than those with lower levels of education (the data were controlled for age). The gulf in attitudes was particularly wide in Germany, Sweden and the US.

This is mostly explained by the fact that graduates go on to earn more, and so are reluctant to be parted from their money, explained Lindsay Richards, a research fellow at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, Oxford, and one of the authors of the analysis.

Attitudes to income redistribution

Attitudes to income redistribution

Source: Briefing note 31, ‘Is Britain more or less socially cohesive than other countries?’, Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford

But other research has indicated that additional factors might be at play, she added. One is about the role of expectations. “Even if you‘re not earning [much] right now, you may be thinking about some point in the future where you’re earning money with your degree – and you don’t want to be giving all that away,” Dr Richards sai

In addition, people who had experienced the “psychological effect” of hardship, such as a period of unemployment, were much more likely to favour redistribution of income, but “if you’re a graduate, you’re far less likely to have experienced unemployment”, she pointed out.

Furthermore, Dr Richards added that it could be that graduates put their relatively privileged position in society down to hard work – rather than luck – giving them an “ideological” reason to oppose redistribution.

One other finding of the research,“Is Britain more or less socially cohesive than other countries?” – to be turned into a book released later this year – is that graduates are more trusting of their fellow citizens, particularly in the US, Germany and France. This could be because better-off graduates have to put their trust in others less often, Dr Richards said, because they were less likely to need to ask for favours.

Poorer, less educated people are also “more likely to live in areas with higher crime rates and perhaps experience less trustworthiness”, she said. “Another point is social networks: people with a degree are likely to have been geographically mobile and have more mixed networks, bringing about trust in people in general.”

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