"These social circles are not representative of the overall population," Dawtry pointed out in his research.
Even though we interact with both rich and poor people over the course of a week or a month—and the wealthiest might have more close interaction with the poor if they're employing some of those lower-income earners as nannies, housekeepers, drivers and the like—more of our interactions are with people who are similar to us economically, he wrote. That means we default to using the people around us as a proxy, which distorts our perspective in a way many of us don't even realize.
"The rich and poor do not simply have different views about how wealth should be distributed across society; rather, they subjectively experience living in societies that have subtle — but important—differences," Dawtry wrote in the paper.
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He found that this blind spot has real-life policy implications: Wealthier people are more likely to say the status quo of income distribution in the United States is fair, and are less likely to support redistributive policies, even though the richest Americans today hold more of the country's wealth than they have in roughly a century and the economic recovery has contributed little to those further down the income spectrum.