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Communism, Capitalism, and Images of Class. Effects of Reference Groups, Reality, and Regime in 43 Nations and 110,000 Individuals, 1987-2009

People differ vastly in perceptions of inequality, some seeing a small elite at the top of their society with a vast impoverished mass at the bottom, others a prosperous society with most people in the middle. This was found first for two nations, Australia and Communist-era Hungary. We extend these results to 43 nations and to the post-Communist era. The results support our original middle-range “reference group and reality blend” hypothesis. We extend the original findings to show that, for analogous reasons, socio economic development makes societies seem more egalitarian, that societies’ actual income inequality shapes perceptions, and that the collapse of Communism dramatically increased perceptions of inequality. In sharp contrast to these diverse perceptions, ideals are shared, almost everyone preferring prosperous egalitarian societies. Data are from 92 large representative national samples in 43 nations with more than 100,000 respondents, analyzed by multilevel generalized least squares (GLS) methods.