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Does Affirmative Action Worsen Bureaucratic Performance? Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service

Rikhil Bhavnani and Alexander Lee

American Journal of Political Science, 2021, vol. 65, issue 1, 5-20

Abstract: Although many countries recruit bureaucrats using affirmative action, the effect of affirmative action recruits on bureaucratic performance has rarely been examined. Some worry that affirmative action worsens bureaucratic performance by diminishing the quality of recruits, whereas others posit that it improves performance by making recruits more representative of and responsive to the population. We test for these possibilities using unusually detailed data on the recruitment, background, and careers of India's elite bureaucracy. We examine the effect of affirmative action hires on district‐level implementation of MGNREGA, the world's largest anti‐poverty program. The data suggest that disadvantaged group members recruited via affirmative action perform no worse than others.

Date: 2021
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