Transcript Esther Duflo: Representation for women in India

00:05 Even in developed countries women are relatively under-represented as policy makers. Now in 1993 the Indian Constitution was reformed to give more authority to panchayats, which is responsible for local public goods such as school buildings (although usually not the schoolteachers), water wells, hold ways and stuff like that.

00:33 When they put in place the panchayat system they also had some provision for representation of women. One third of the panchayat must be headed by a woman so people can only vote for a woman as the head of the panchayat. At every election they basically draw lots.

00:52 In the short-term you can ask a very simple question–is it the case women do different stuff? Politicians don’t necessarily do exactly what they promise and in fact they might not have the ability to commit to do what voters want. And in fact, once in office they’ll just do whatever it is they want to do. So in that case we might see that being a woman would affect what a politician decides to invest in.

01:16 We try to get a ranking of public goods according to how preferred they are by women versus men. And we did that by looking at what women seem to be interested in and asking questions about in the electorate. In places that are currently reserved for women, so only women can run, there is more investment in those goods. So that’s the short-term effect that in fact you do find the shifting of goods towards what the goods that women prefer which in West Bengal are mostly water wells.

01:40 Then in the medium-term you can ask another question which is–this woman coming together, is it good for women in politics in general or is it bad for women politics in general? So, it could be good because voters are learning to like women. It could be bad if there is a backlash against women. The difficulty is how do you know what people think of women as policy makers?

02:00 So we did this in a sneaky way; we asked people to listen to a tape which is a speech given by one of these policy makers and the speech was inspired on a real speech but we got it recorded by either female actors or male actors. And in general in places that have not been exposed to women as policy makers, people rank the female speeches below the male speeches even though the content is literally the same. But in places which have had a woman as policy makers, either currently or have had one in the past, people tend to actually prefer the female speech. So this suggests that the exposure actually is good for women, it doesn’t hurt so you can have a backlash but make people used to the fact that women can be good policy makers.

02:44 And finally you might be interested in long-term impact which is whether having women as policy makers changes people’s aspiration for their daughters. And to answer that question we asked both adults and teenagers about aspirations. The adults we asked about aspiration for their kids, the teenagers we asked about aspiration for themselves.

03:09 Parents of women don’t want them to go to school for very long. They think that their in-laws should choose their career, they think they should stay at home etc. For boys they want them to study longer, they want them to have a career and a life.

03:21 After a couple of cycles where you’ve been exposed to a woman policy maker you see the gap in aspiration between boys and girls begin to really converge, not because the ambition for boys goes down but because the ambition for girls goes up. It has the consequences that you see girls less likely to drop out of middle school. These little local policy makers have really no control over middle schools so it has to be something that the parents do. So, the most likely is that this is this change in aspiration that they see after they’ve seen a woman as a role model. That really effects their ambition for the girls.

03:50 I learned about this quota, quota policy, from a talk I went to. It was not a talk by an economist. I found out that actually I could get the data on who got the quota.

04:08 Just letting your curiosity fluids course, being attuned to the world, not being too narrowly defined of what is economics, what is not economics. You know, anything that is interesting and can be answered rigorously with a data set is usually fair game.