Being unequal and seeing inequality: Explaining the political significance of social inequality in new market democracies


Matthew Loveless, Department of Political Science, University of Mississippi, University, MS 38677, USA. Tel.: (+001) 662 915 7415; Fax: (+001) 662 915 7808; E-mail:


Market economies inevitably generate social inequalities, of which the new democracies of Central and East European (CEE) societies have seen dramatic – though widely diverging – levels of growth. Do CEE citizens believe that inequality is excessive and, if so, why? And what is the connection between perceptions of social inequality and citizens' views of new markets and democracy? These questions are addressed using new data from mass surveys conducted in 2007 in 12 post-communist CEE states. Surprisingly weak links are found between social inequality perceptions and national-level measures of inequality as well economic, social and political conditions. Perceptions of social inequality are mainly driven by individual-level assessments of market and democratic performance, but not by market or democratic ideals.