Economic Insecurity, Political Inequality, and the Well-Being of American Families

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This dissertation explores the interrelated dynamics of economic and political inequality, economic insecurity, and psychological well-being through three connected empirical studies. The first study adjudicates between conflicting findings in the unequal policy responsiveness literature. Many studies of the relative influence of income groups on U.S. policy have focused on issues over which affluent and average Americans disagree. However, scholars have posited different ways of both defining policy disagreement and measuring policy responsiveness. I assess the impact of 22 definitions of policy disagreement and two methods of measuring policy influence—based on win rates and policy change rates—on analyses of unequal responsiveness. The results of this analysis consistently indicate that U.S. policymaking institutions respond to the preferences of the affluent, but not those of average Americans. The second study examines gendered effects of unemployment on the subjective well-being of different-sex U.S. couples using recent data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). I eliminate the confounding influence of time-invariant person-specific characteristics that could impact both unemployment transitions and well-being through fixed effects analysis. While husbands’ unemployment is negatively associated with wives’ well-being, I find no evidence that wives’ unemployment spills over to impact husbands’ cognitive or affective well-being. The final study looks at the relationship between income change and psychological health and investigates possible asymmetry in this relationship. Analyzing data from the PSID with a combination of first-difference estimation and spline regression, I find support for the hypothesis that income losses have a larger impact than income gains on subjective well-being among partnered adults. The relationships between income changes and well-being are insignificant for single adults. Together, these studies offer new insights into the ways economic power and vulnerability shape the subjective and material realities of life for individuals and families in the United States.






Bowman, Jarron (2020). Economic Insecurity, Political Inequality, and the Well-Being of American Families. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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