Women political leaders, corruption, and learning: evidence from a large public program in India
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We exploit randomly assigned political quotas for women to identify the impact of women’s political leadership on corruption and on the governance of India’s largest poverty-alleviation program to date. Using survey data, we find more program inefficiencies and leakages in village councils reserved for women heads: political and administrative inexperience make such councils more vulnerable to bureaucratic capture. This is at odds with claims of unconditional gains from women assuming political office. A panel of official audit reports enables us to explore (a) whether newly elected women leaders in reserved seats initially perform worse; (b) whether they partly catch up, fully catch up, or eventually outperform (male) leaders in unreserved seats; and (c) the time it takes for such catch-up to occur. We find that women leaders in reserved seats initially underperform but rapidly learn and quickly and fully catch up with male politicians in unreserved seats. Over the duration of their elected tenure, we find no evidence of overtake. Our findings suggest short-term costs of affirmative action policies but also that once initial disadvantages recede, women leaders are neither more nor less effective local politicians than men.
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