Legitimate wealth? How wealthy business owners are portrayed in the press

Nora Waitkus*, Stefan Wallaschek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
91 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Germany has one of the highest levels of wealth concentration of any Western capitalist country. Research on the legitimization of economic inequality highlights that wealth elites tend to stress meritocratic arguments for legitimizing elite positions and wealth accumulation. However, whether this is also the case for wealthy business owners and how the media tends to portray those remains largely unknown. Drawing on a unique sample of 899 press articles from eight different media outlets between 2014 and 2018, we find a rather generous media debate. Based on descriptive evidence and a latent class analysis, we identify six latent frames illustrating how wealthy business owners are portrayed in the press. We show that the sources of wealth (inheritance, investment, entrepreneurship) are often used to highlight these owners’ deep economic relevance to the German economy, while the use of wealth is predominantly framed as a mean for profit-seeking. For wealthy business owners, moral evaluation of personal conduct is less present in the media and, when it is present, is rarely negative. Our study is the first analysis of press coverage of the wealthiest German business owners indicating a legitimizing media debate of high wealth concentration in an advanced capitalist society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404-435
JournalSocial Justice Research
Volume35
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Keywords

  • Business owners
  • CAPITALISM
  • CAUSAL PATHWAYS
  • ELITE
  • Elites
  • Frame analysis
  • Germany
  • INEQUALITY
  • Legitimization
  • MEDIA
  • MISSING CULTURAL PROCESSES
  • Media
  • NUMBER
  • POVERTY
  • PREFERENCES
  • RICH
  • Wealth inequality

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