What Do People Know?

Most people have limited knowledge about economic inequality. They are unaware of the extent of differences in pay at their own workplace; and they greatly underestimate the income of those at the top, and the extent of wealth inequality in the UK.

Public knowledge about the scale of economic inequality is limited:

Income and Pay Inequality

In general, people underestimate the amount people on high incomes are paid[1]. For instance, in 2010 just under 10% of people thought FTSE 100 Chief Executives were paid more than £4m, while more than 40% thought they were paid less than £1m.  In reality, the average remuneration awarded to CEOs across the FTSE 100 was £4.5m in 2010[2].

Around 6–10% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to a question about differences in pay at their own workplace[3] in each year from 1983 to 1995.

Wealth Inequality

The public greatly underestimate the extent of UK wealth inequality. In 2013 they thought that the top 20% of the population owned 39% of wealth and the bottom 20% owned 10%. The actual distribution is far more unequal – the top 20% own 62% while the bottom 20% has less than 1%[4].

[1] (Taylor-Gooby et al. 2003)

[2] (BSA 2010)

[3] (Spencer 1996)

[4] (Rowlingson and McKay 2013)