Searching for Homo Economicus: Variation in Americans’ Construals of and Attitudes toward Markets

Searching for Homo Economicus: Variation in Americans’ Construals of and Attitudes toward Markets

By
Paul DiMaggio, Amir Goldberg
European Journal of Sociology.
2017

Economic sociologists agree that economic rationality is constructed and that morality and economic interests often intersect. Yet we know little about how Americans organize their economic beliefs or assess the morality of markets. To make progress, it is neces­sary to distinguish between how actors construe markets (how they understand and structure their attitudes toward markets) and their normative positions on markets’ prop­er role. Using data from the General Social Survey, we employ Relational Class Analysis to identify three sub­sets of respondents whose members construe economic markets in distinct ways.  Compared to the full sample, subsamples display markedly more structure in associations among responses, and between attitudes and sociodem­ographic predict­ors.  Support for market solutions is associated with indicators of economic advantage in each subset, but religious and political identities, respectively, predict pro-market views uniquely in subsamples that construe markets through a religious or political lens.  Re­sults illustrate the value of distinguishing between construals and positions and examin­ing population heterogeneity in opinion data; identify and explain variations in how Am­ericans understand markets; and illuminate the moral dimension in economic attitudes.  Self-interest drives faith in markets, but only when people construe markets in ways consistent with their religious and political faiths.