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Economic Inequality and Intolerance: Attitudes toward Homosexuality in 35 Democracies


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2006 annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association. The authors thank Karen Albright, Neal Caren, Jeremy Freese, Brian Gifford, David Greenberg, Mike Hout, and Jackie Smith for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

Robert Andersen is professor of sociology and political science, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5S 2J4 ( Tina Fetner is assistant professor of sociology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada, L8S 4M4 (


Using hierarchical linear models fitted to data from the World Values Survey and national statistics for 35 countries, this article builds on the postmaterialist thesis by assessing the impact of economic inequality across and within nations on attitudes toward homosexuality. It provides evidence that tolerance tends to decline as national income inequality rises. For professionals and managers, the results also support the postmaterialist argument that economic development leads to more tolerant attitudes. On the other hand, attitudes of the working class are generally less tolerant, and contrary to expectations of the postmaterialist thesis, are seemingly unaffected by economic development. In other words, economic development influences attitudes only for those who benefit most. These findings have political implications, suggesting that state policies that have the goal of economic growth but fail to consider economic inequality may contribute to intolerant social and political values, an attribute widely considered detrimental for the health of democracy.