This paper analyses the role of perceptions of inequality and distributive beliefs in motivating people to engage in protests. The paper focuses on the case of Latin America, where an interesting paradox has been observed: despite considerable reductions in inequality, most countries in Latin America have experienced increases in protests and civil unrest in the last decade.
In order to understand this paradox, we analyse the relationship between inequality and protests in recent years in Latin America, using micro-level data on individual participation in protests in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The results show that civil protests are driven by distributive beliefs and not by levels of inequality because individual judgements and reactions are based on own perceptions of inequality that may or may not match absolute levels of inequality. The results also point to the important role of government policy in affecting perceptions of inequality and ensuring social and political stability.