Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, by producing the graph below, have provided an interesting addition to the growing discussion of income inequality in the US.
The two columns on the left come from representative national samples of the American public.
The one on the far left shows the wealth distribution their respondents said would be ideal. In other words, in an idealized version of America, the public thought that the wealthiest 20% of the population (the purple bar) should control about 32% of the total wealth, the second and third quintiles (the blue and green bars) should control slightly more than than their proportionate 'share' (about 22% for each), while the poorest 40% of the population (the yellow and red bars) should control substantially less of the total wealth. In short, the American public embraces the concept of inequality of wealth, but not extreme wealth inequality.
The middle column captures American perceptions of how wealth is currently distributed. Clearly, Americans perceive the country as being more unequal than their 'ideal' distribution. They perceive the wealthiest 20% as having substantially more than ideal, the second 20% as having close to their ideal share and the bottom 60% having substantially less than ideal.
The column on the right shows the actual distribution of wealth in the United States, which is substantially more unequal than the perception. In sum, "respondents to his surveys universally think that wealth is more evenly
distributed in the United States than it actually is—and what’s more,
respondents say they would prefer for the wealth to be still more evenly spread around."
For more: What We Know About Wealth