R. Chattopadhyay & E. Duflo

Econometrica, Vol. 72, No. 5 (2004) pp. 1409 – 1443

A Very Short Summary 

In a Nutshell

As women are universally underrepresented in politics, at times political reservations are made for women. There is some evidence that men and women have different policy preferences. Whether these will translate into different policy outcomes is not at all obvious, as one of the implications of the median voter theorem is that the identity of the politician is not as important and the preferences of the median voter.

Using the fact that India decided that 30% of seats and chairs had to be for women in local councils (and the councils subject to the law were made so at random), the paper looks to see if there are effects of reserving seats for women, by looking at the provision of public goods within the regions that had a female head of council. The results indicate that gender does influence policy decisions and hence the identity of a decision maker does influence policy. In particular, in West Bengal, female populations complain more about drinking water and roads, and spending on those goods is differentially higher in those regions that have a female head of council. In Rajasthan, women complain more about water, and less about roads, and this too is reflected in public good spending. Thus it seems that policy outcomes are closer to what women want than what men want. Women prefer programmes that increase their opportunities (better water means less time on housework etc.).

Other results indicate that a female head increases female participation in the council meetings, and makes women more likely to complain i.e. it increases the role of women in the political process. The reason that the results are more in line with what women want is because their preferences are more closely aligned with the personal preferences of the leader.

The paper concludes that leaders under the reservation policy invest more closely with the interests of general female concern, and these results are robust to inclusion of the identity of the leader and observable community variables. This implies, that whilst democracy may be an important way to make government accountable to the citizens, the identity of the leaders is of importance. In particularly if there are cultural or other norms that tend to prevent women from being politicians, it is possible that the interests of women will be substantially overlooked, and this is not fair given that they represent 50% of the population. Thus, along with free media as advocated by Besley and Burgess, encouraging participation by women in politics may be a means of increasing the accountability of government which in turn may affect socio-economic outcomes (such as infant mortality as in the Africa paper summarized above).




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