Economic inequality has been on the rise in almost all Western societies for the last decades. What is much less clear, however, is whether this trend is spelling societal problems, and to which extent and in what respects rising inequality may affect the nature of our societies. As hallmarks of liberal society, we specifically examine patterns of social mobility, the extent of social cohesion, and the level of trust in democratic institutions, and investigate to which extent rising inequality may be interfering with societies’ capabilities to allocate positions according to merit and talent, to engage in cooperative social relations, and to decide on political matters through fair and transparent democratic processes.

To address these concerns and to provide new empirical evidence on these issues, the POLAR project is bringing together survey data from various sources, for a wide sample of countries, and eventually extending back in time to the 1970s or 1980s. This rich database will allow us to track relevant changes over time within countries, from which we will describe trends in economic inequality, social mobility, social cohesion, and the functioning of democratic governance, and then aim to disentangle the effects of rising inequality from those of other parallel changes in Western societies. Besides establishing where and when adverse effects of rising inequality have empirically occurred, we also seek to understand the social transmission processes that create these effects, and then aim to identify societal and institutional sources of resilience.

Project areas

economic inequality
support for democracy

Our database

The POLAR project has a major data harmonization effort at its heart. To assess the changing fabric of Western societies, and the potential role of rising economic inequality therein, we envisage assembling a large-scale comparative database of microdata from representative household surveys on POLAR-related themes in, broadly speaking, affluent countries and extending back to the 1970s and 1980s. The resulting database will provide us with opportunity to estimate state-of-the-art multilevel models to understand societal responses to rising inequality, to examine their distribution in the population, and to possibly probe for the relevant social mechanisms that are creating effects of economic inequality on outcomes.

The construction of the harmonized POLAR database is a continuous activity in the project. Our present beta version of the database integrates data from the European Social Survey, the European Values Study, the World Values Survey, the General Social Survey, and the International Social Survey Programme. We strive to expand the database further, and will therefore continue to add suitable international and national survey data over time. As our work in POLAR is resting on the prior work of many, we would like to express our gratitude to all collectors of the primary data, for their interviewing efforts as much as for their dedication of making scientific-use files of their data available to the research community.

Opportunities for collaboration

The POLAR project represents a longer-term research effort on issues of economic inequality. If you wish to contribute to our efforts, whether by having ideas for collaboration on a joint article publication or by being able to contribute suitable survey data to the project database, we would appreciate if you were to get in touch. You might also wish to occasionally check for any job openings that might arise in the future and that would be posted through this website.

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