Research Paper 35: Perceptions of Inequalities: implications for social cohesion


Christine Han, Jan Germen Janmaat, Bryony Hoskins and Andy Green


There has been much research on different forms of inequality and their effects on social cohesion. Few studies, however, have explored the psychological and social mechanisms linking inequality to social cohesion and other macro-social outcomes. How do individuals perceive and experience inequalities, and how do these perceptions relate to civic participation, tolerance, trust and other outcomes relevant for social cohesion? The Perceptions of Inequalities project – of which this literature review paper forms an essential part – focuses on inequalities as perceived and understood by young people.

In the first section of the paper, we clarify the main concepts and terms used in the study of perceptions of inequalities project, and examine the different types of theories explaining differences in perceptions, values, and judgements relating to inequality, as well as how individuals respond to these. The second section of the paper takes a cognitive and social psychological approach to understand how people perceive inequalities.

The third section of the paper reviews international comparative studies in order to assess the influence of societal level conditions on the cognitive elements of inequality (viz. perceptions, values, and judgements of inequality). We take a comparative perspective, and examine perceptions of inequalities within a comparative and ‘macro’ context. In the fourth section, we examine the studies that investigate the social effects of the cognitive elements of inequality.

In the fifth and final section, we identify the omissions in the literature, and explain how the Perceptions of Inequalities project seeks to address these omissions.