IEA - Only 19 per cent of Brits think its important to be rich, finds polling

From: Think Tanks
Published: Tue Jul 19 2022

This compares to an average of 58 per cent in all Asian countries surveyed

  • According to new polling data, people across Asia are hungrier for financial success than in Europe and the United States - which may go some way to explaining higher levels of economic dynamism in Asian countries.
  • Just 19 per cent of Brits said it was either very important' or fairly important' for them personally to be rich. This compares with 36 per cent in Italy and is well below the figure in all Asian countries polled, an average of 58 per cent, ranging from 43 per cent in Japan, to 76 per cent in Vietnam.
  • Asians generally are less envious of the rich than their Western counterparts.
  • Asians and Westerners overwhelmingly felt that entrepreneurs were the most deserving of wealth and deemed senior bankers to be the least deserving. An exception to this rule was China, where respondents saw senior bankers as being the most deserving of wealth.
  • Even lottery winners were deemed more deserving of wealth than senior bankers in European countries and the US.
  • Dr Rainer Zitelmann's findings show that a disparity exists between perceptions of wealth in Asia and the West. Most Asian participants expressed a generally positive view of the rich, whereas in continental Europe (esp. in France and Germany), the attitudes seen were overwhelmingly negative.
  • The study confirms that social envy is far less pronounced in Asian countries, like Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, than it is in continental Europe.

New research, published in the June issue of Institute of Economic Affairs' peer reviewed academic journal Economic Affairs, finds that attitudes towards wealth and the rich are far more positive in Asian countries, such as South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, than in continental Europe.

Pollsters Ipsos and Allensbach surveyed 1,000 representatively selected people in each of the United States, six European and four Asian countries to determine their attitudes towards wealth and rich people.

The polling found that the most positive attitudes toward the rich are held by Japanese and Vietnamese respondents, the most negative by the French, followed by the Spanish and Germans.

The study also found that in Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, there is little social envy against the rich - particularly in comparison to continental Europe. However, envy of the rich is similar in China and Germany.

Respondents were also asked to rate the personality traits of the rich. Across China, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, the most common adjectives used included bold', daring', intelligent' and imaginative'. This attitude is in stark contrast to the Western countries, where respondents took a dimmer view of the wealthy.

Asian and Western countries felt that the wealthy should pay higher rates of tax than the poor or average earners. However, Zitelmann's polling showed disagreement over how heavily they should be taxed.

In all of the European countries surveyed (except for Sweden) and in the US, the number of respondents who thought that the rich should pay not only high taxes but very high taxes was greater than the number who opposed very high taxes for the rich. In some cases, the differences were very large.

In France, for example, 53 per cent of respondents said that rich people should pay very high taxes and only 19 per cent said they should be high but not very high. By contrast, 63 per cent of Vietnamese t said that taxes on the rich should be high but not very high, while only 21 per cent advocate very high taxes for the rich. This reflects how in Asian countries wealth is more highly esteemed than in many European countries.

This attitude also translated to the level of importance that respondents afforded to becoming wealthy. The desire to become rich is far more pronounced in Asian countries than in Europe and the US. In the four Asian countries surveyed, an average of 58 per cent of people felt that it was important for them to be personally rich. In the Western countries surveyed in Zitelmann's previous study, only 28 per cent felt that it was important for them to become personally wealthy.

Based on these findings, it is apparent that the ambition to become rich is far greater in Asian countries than in their Western equivalents and carries fewer negative connotations. At the same time, Asian countries demonstrated far lower levels of social envy towards the rich compared to their European equivalents.

Notes to editors

IEA spokespeople are available for interview and further comment.

You can read the full article Attitudes towards the rich in China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam' here.

Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist and the author of the book The Rich in Public Opinion', which deals with prejudices and stereotypes about rich people.

The Institute of Economic Affairs' academic journal Economic Affairs has been publishing stimulating original work and commentary since 1980, with an increasing international focus and readership. Through sharing ideas about worldwide markets and variations in government policy, Economic Affairs is distinct in its ability to communicate with a global audience.

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