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Evolutionary stability of inequality structures

Ponti, G; Seymour, RM; (1999) Evolutionary stability of inequality structures. Rationality and Society , 11 (1) 47 - 77.

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This paper studies the evolution of a population whose members compare their relative income to coordinate actions in a simple bargaining game. Two alternative customs are considered: one in which difference in income (i.e. difference in social class) is large enough to justify difference in behavior, and another in which difference in income is perceived as not sufficient to justify a difference in behavior. Although we constrain agents to these bargaining strategies, reference class boundaries are subjectively determined. Our model yields the following conclusions. If individuals form fixed, unambiguous images of their position in the social structure, then social inequality will eventually disappear, as the income of each individual converges to a uniform level. On the other hand, if social images vary from individual to individual (and evolve through some learning process), then social inequality may persist, with class consciousness (i.e. narrower subjective class boundaries) being most pronounced in those who occupy the extreme positions (either very rich or very poor) of the social ranking.

Title:Evolutionary stability of inequality structures
Keywords:social inequality, conventions, evolutionary game theory
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Mathematics

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