Legitimacy of Inequality in a Highly Unequal Context: Evidence from the Chilean Case


Economic inequality is usually assumed to be a threat to social cohesion and democracy. Nevertheless, this opposition of inequality and democracy is based on further assumptions such as (a) that people perceive economic inequality accurately, and (b) that, by and large they consider inequality unjust. Research into distributive issues has not found consistent support for neither of these assumptions. Quite the contrary, empirical evidence indicates that economic inequality is widely misperceived and that inequality is to some extent considered legitimate. So far most of the empirical evidence in the area of legitimacy comes from experimental studies in the developed world. The present research aims at widening the scope of legitimacy studies by focusing on Chile as a case country, one of the societies with the highest economic inequality worldwide, guided by the question to what extent is economic inequality considered legitimate in a context of high economic inequality? In addressing this question, and based on previous evidence, the article proposes a way to evaluate (a) the legitimacy of inequality at a country level via survey research, and (b) the role of inequality perception and justice ideologies in the justification of economic inequality. The data to be analyzed is the public opinion survey International Social Justice Project (ISJP), implemented in Chile in the year 2007 (n = 890). Multivariate analysis results reveal signs of legitimacy of inequality in Chile, opening a series of issues regarding the acceptance and stability of unequal distributions.

Social Justice Research, 24(4) 314–340 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-011-0144-5