Life's Not Fair, and the British Know It

Life's Not Fair, and the British Know It
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Why you should care

Because attitude matters.

British actress Emma Thompson once called her home country a “cake-filled misery-laden gray old island.” That playful characterization, conforming to every stereotype of the U.K., has gotten a harder edge in the past year as a Brexit Britain mentality takes hold and metaphorical gates close with only the promise of a lucrative jam industry and the obviously empty promise of empire to warm those sunless days. But still, Brits kept their balance during the Blitz, while Americans are mocked for their me-me-me mentality — so it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that:

Only 25 percent of Brits think life is fair, compared with 38 percent of Americans.

Now, if you look at statistics on inequality, these numbers should be reversed. The Gini coefficient, a measurement of how evenly wealth is distributed in a country, is very clear: In terms of income, the U.S. is less equal than the U.K. by quite a bit, though the average Gini coefficient was at record highs, meaning there’s a record amount of inequality, according to the latest figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But that would assume that when you ask people if life is fair, the answer will be about social equality. There’s more than one way to think about the question, though. Is life fair could mean “Do we all get the same resources?” It could mean “Does everyone have what they need?” And it could mean “Do people get what they deserve?”

That last interpretation is a very different question says Paul Bunyan, a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, England, whose research focuses on class and civil society. “This notion of the deserving and the undeserving poor, we’ve seen this coming very much back into vogue,” he explains, which has coincided with a focus on individual stability rather than social systems that endeavor to provide a basic standard of living. At one time, more people might have expected society to support all its citizens, including the poor. In recent decades, however, Western societies have shifted focus to individuals. Bunyan puts it under the philosophy, “You are the architect of your own success or your own failure.”

Maybe that’s why another statistic jumps out of this survey: In both the U.S. and the U.K., the richest respondents were significantly more likely to think life is fair — and also more likely than other income groups to say it shouldn’t have to be.

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