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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Sep 26;114(39):10324-10331. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1707719114. Epub 2017 Sep 18.

Americans misperceive racial economic equality.

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School of Management, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520;
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520.
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520;
Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520.
Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.
Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.


The present research documents the widespread misperception of race-based economic equality in the United States. Across four studies (n = 1,377) sampling White and Black Americans from the top and bottom of the national income distribution, participants overestimated progress toward Black-White economic equality, largely driven by estimates of greater current equality than actually exists according to national statistics. Overestimates of current levels of racial economic equality, on average, outstripped reality by roughly 25% and were predicted by greater belief in a just world and social network racial diversity (among Black participants). Whereas high-income White respondents tended to overestimate racial economic equality in the past, Black respondents, on average, underestimated the degree of past racial economic equality. Two follow-up experiments further revealed that making societal racial discrimination salient increased the accuracy of Whites' estimates of Black-White economic equality, whereas encouraging Whites to anchor their estimates on their own circumstances increased their tendency to overestimate current racial economic equality. Overall, these findings suggest a profound misperception of and unfounded optimism regarding societal race-based economic equality-a misperception that is likely to have any number of important policy implications.


economic inequality; motivated perception; racial disparities; racial stratification; socioeconomic status

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