Over the past decades income inequality has been sharply increasing in both mainland China and Hong Kong, two Chinese societies that have distinct paths of institutional development. While previous studies on income inequality have attempted to document the trend and investigate its causes, this article focuses on people's perceptions of legitimate income inequality and how these perceptions are related to their attitude towards inequality. Analyses of data collected in separate population surveys in China (2005) and Hong Kong (2007) reveal a higher degree of tolerance of income inequality and a higher degree of perceived fairness of income distribution in Hong Kong than in the mainland. In both societies, such normative support for income inequality is positively associated with people's perceptions of opportunities.
Xiaogang Wu is associate professor of social science in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and research fellow of sociology division, E-Institutes of Shanghai Universities, China. His research interests include social stratification and mobility, labour markets and economic sociology, and statistical methods. He currently studies the impact of Chinese economic reforms on educational stratification, social mobility and stratification dynamics in China since the mid-1990s, and self-employment and private entrepreneurship in China's economic transition.
* This article was presented at the “Social Inequality and Social Mobility in Hong Kong” Conference at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 14 March 2008. The author is grateful for financial support from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council via a Public Policy Research Fund (HKUST6003-PPR20051) for the data collection in Hong Kong and a Competitive Earmarked Grant (HKUST6424/05H) for his research on social inequality in China.