How Racial Descriptive Representation Affects Labor Market Interest

While existing evidence focuses on the political impact of descriptive representation, feeling included in government might translate into broader welfare-enhancing effects. We show that women are more likely to participate in the labor market when they feel politically included. We first experimentally demonstrate that U.S. subjects who are made to feel more politically included are significantly more likely to indicate interest in applying to jobs. We find evidence that the mechanism through which treated women are more likely to enter the labor market varies according to feelings of marginalization, which are concentrated among Democratic women. Democratic women update their beliefs about the levels of discrimination they are likely to experience, while Republican women, who have lower baseline expectations of discrimination, apply to more jobs because they feel empowered. We find similar results using behavioral measures in a lab setting in the United Kingdom, where we also uncover a countervailing effect on men’s beliefs about discrimination. Our findings have important implications for the non-political effects of descriptive representation.

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