Income and Government Services: A Review of the Literature

In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since then, it has grown into one of the largest government services offered by the Federal government. In order to fund government services like Social Security, taxes are levied on various income levels. This taxation is met with opposing viewpoints from various political perspectives. In general, conservatives oppose progressive taxation policies and programs that redistribute wealth while liberals typically support them (Chamber 2013). However, many people, regardless of income level, receive benefits from these government services or programs (Mettler 2008). Furthermore, across all income levels, participation and the array of use of these government programs is notably higher than one might expect (Mettler 2008) So this raises the question; does an individual’s level of income affect their perception of the country’s need for government services? It is important to answer this question because currently, the United States is battling a large amount of debt which some believe can be limited through reductions in spending on government services. By researching a possible link between an individual’s income level and their perception of government services, a more sophisticated conversation can take place regarding the significance of those services.

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In an earlier piece research conducted by Jeron Van Der Wall, Peter Achterberg, and Dick Houtman (2007) across fifteen countries found that income is a prominent indicator of perception. The countries included in the study were; Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States for the time period 1956 to 1990. They aim to try and provide an alternative explanation to Paul Nieuwbeerta’s (1996) research, which found that since the end of World War II voting for a specific political ideology based on one’s socioeconomic class, or class voting, was on the decline in Western civilization. To conduct their research, they rely on income as the primary indicator of class. They find that the patterns in class voting are driven by the cultural and educational differences across all incomes (Van Der Wall 2007). This indicates that class voting still exists and income level is still a relative factor to political ideology.

Additionally Van Der Wall claims “class has been buried alive under the increasing weight of cultural voting, systematically misinterpreted as a decline in class voting” (Van Der Waal 417: 2007) when in fact class voting has become stronger since the pre-World War II era. (Van Der Wall 2007). However, because of the lack of accountability for variables like educational differences, working class, and just the evolution of political cultural in general, the findings raised by previous researchers are not entirely conclusive. By revealing these additional variables, a more thorough investigation can be conducted in regards to the relation between one’s income and their perception towards the necessity for government services.

When discussing perception, personality traits must also be examined. Research conducted by Scott E. Seibert and Maria L. Kraimer (2001) examines how the Big Five personality traits are causally linked with extrinsic career success. They find that Extraverts, that are additionally psychologically more stable, are more likely to have extrinsic career success (Seibert 2001). Extraverts are outgoing and dominant individuals whose strive for success is driven by their personal ambition to come out on top. They have lower self-regard then introverts and are more willing to sacrifice better working conditions for the chance to rise above their peers. In regards to being agreeable and team players, extraverts are less likely to be agreeable and when working in organized conditions with others they are more likely to be more dominant and still try to stand out amongst their peers (Seibert 2001). Extraverts are rugged individualists, that is, they believe they are only ones who can determine how successful they are. This is a fundamental concept related to conservatism. And because extraverts are more likely to be successful and have higher incomes then introverts, Seibert and Kraimers’ (2007) findings reinforce the notion that individuals with higher levels of income are more conservative. Coinciding with personality, intelligence also affects the action and thought processes of people. Cognitive abilities are generally defined as the abilities one possesses to perform the simplest of tasks and the most difficult. They are the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, pay attention, and problem solve. They form together to create an individual’s intelligence quotient, which is generally linked with one’s overall level of intelligence. General mental ability (GMA), which was introduced by C. Spearman (1904), is also used to describe an individual’s level of intelligence. In their research, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter (2004) confirm that GMA scores are strongly related to job performance and income level. Drawing from research conducted by Charles Murray(1998) that addition to examined GMA scores within families, “Murray found that the siblings with higher GMA scores received more education, entered more prestigious occupations, had higher income, and were employed more regularly” (Schmidt 2004). Using this evidence from Schmidt and Hunter’s research and correlating it with findings produced by Satoshi Kanazawa (2010) that show that more intelligent individuals are in fact more liberal, leads to the logical conclusion, assuming income is as related to intelligence as suggested, that higher income individuals are more likely to be liberal then conservative.

Across the research provided, income is a relative factor in terms of political ideology. However, it is clear that a consensus on whether or not individuals with higher incomes are politically more liberal or conservative hasn’t been reached. Seibert and Kraimer’s (2001) research shows that the particular types of personalities that rise to the top in economic status are predominantly those of who, are more conservative in nature. What their research negates to account for is the level of intelligence possessed by those extraverts who are successful. Rather, they assume that they already have a high degree of intelligence because they possess the cognitive abilities to beat out their peers and earn higher incomes. Generally, this more than likely would be agreed upon. Furthering their point, intelligence as discussed in Schmidt and Hunter’s (2004) research, shows that intelligence is strongly linked to income level. However, the disparity in logic is introduced with Satoshi Kanazawa’s (2010) research which concludes that individuals, who possess a higher level of intelligence, are more liberal.


Chambers, John R., Swan, Lawton K., and Heesacker, Martin. 2013. “Better Off Than We Know Distorted Perceptions of Incomes and Income Inequality in America”

Jeroen van der Waal., Achterberg, Peter., and Houtman Dick. 2007. “Class Is Not Dead??It HasBeen Buried Alive: Class Voting and Cultural Voting in Postwar Western Societies (1956?1990)” Politics Society 2007 35: 40.

Kanazawa, Satoshi. 2010. “Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent”. Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 33-57.

Mettler, Suzanne., and Stonecash, Jeffrey M. 2008. “Government Program Usage and Political Voice”. Social Science Quarterly: 89: 273–293.

Murray, Charles. 1998. Income Inequality and IQ. Washington D.C: The AEI Press.

Nieuwbeerta, P. (1996). “The Democratic Class Struggle in Postwar Societies: Class Voting in Twenty Countries, 1945-1990”. Acta Sociologica (Taylor & Francis Ltd), 39(4), 345-383.

Schmidt, Frank L., and Hunter, John. 2004. “General Mental Ability in the World of Work: Occupational Attainment and Job Performance. Social Psychology 2004, Vol. 86, No.1, 162-173.

Spearman, C. (1904). “General Intelligence, Objectively Determined and Measured.” American Journal of Psychology, 15, 201–293.