Cognitive Ability and the Demand for Redistribution




Mollerstrom, Johanna
Seim, David

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Public Library of Science


Empirical research suggests that the cognitively able are politically more influential than the less able, by being more likely to vote and to assume leadership positions. This study asks whether this pattern matters for public policy by investigating what role a person's cognitive ability plays in determining his preferences for redistribution of income among citizens in society. To answer this question, we use a unique Swedish data set that matches responses to a tailor-made questionnaire to administrative tax records and to military enlistment records for men, with the latter containing a measure of cognitive ability. On a scale of 0 to 100 percent redistribution, a one-standard-deviation increase in cognitive ability reduces the willingness to redistribute by 5 percentage points, or by the same amount as a $35,000 increase in mean annual income. We find support for two channels mediating this economically strong and statistically significant relation. First, higher ability is associated with higher income. Second, ability is positively correlated with the view that economic success is the result of effort, rather than luck. Both these factors are, in turn, related to lower demand for redistribution



, Surveys, Altruistic behavior
, Schools, Sweden, Demography
, Educational attainment
, Questionnaires


Mollerstrom J, Seim D (2014) Cognitive Ability and the Demand for Redistribution. PLoS ONE 9(10): e109955. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109955