Eunji Kim

Joint Ph.D. Student in American Politics / Political Communication


Title: Entertaining Beliefs in Economic Mobility 

Committee: Diana C. Mutz (Co-Chair), Daniel J. Hopkins (Co-Chair), Matthew Levendusky, Marc Meredith, Michael X. Delli Carpini, Yphtach Lelkes

I am a Joint Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science and Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. I study American public opinion, political communication and political psychology, with a focus on economic mobility and income inequality. 

My dissertation explains why many Americans believe in the prospect of upward economic mobility despite growing wealth disparities. My work has been published or conditionally accepted in the International Organization, Research & Politics, and Quarterly Journal of Political Science. I received my M.A. in Statistics from the Wharton School, and a B.A. in Government from Harvard University.

As a teacher, I strive to create an inclusive classroom informed by my experiences of being a first-generation college student at Harvard and a Graduate Associate in Penn’s college houses for five years.

Job Market Paper

Americans have long believed in upward economic mobility and the narrative of the American Dream. Even in the face of rising income inequality, and substantial empirical evidence that economic mobility has declined in recent decades, most Americans remain convinced in the prospects for upward mobility. What explains this disconnect? I argue that Americans’ media diets play an important role in explaining this puzzle. Specifically, contemporary Americans are watching a record number of entertainment TV programs emphasizing “rags-to-riches” narratives. Using detailed Nielsen ratings data and original content analyses, I demonstrate that such shows have become a ubiquitous part of the American media landscape over the last two decades. In three national surveys—one original, two nationally representative—I find that exposure to these programs increases viewers’ beliefs in the American Dream; for heavy viewers, this effect is as powerful as that of having immigrant parents. Experiments conducted both online and in a lab-in-the-field setting establish that these media effects are causal, and stronger among Republicans. My results underscore the long overdue need to expand the scope of political communication research in a high choice media environment. To the extent that belief in economic mobility can legitimize income inequality, my findings also have implications for the study of redistributive democracy and American public opinion more generally.

University of Pennsylvania
The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics
133 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Nicholas Sambanis Chair
Alex Weisiger Graduate Chair
Daniel Hopkins Undergraduate Chair