Time in Office and the Changing Gender Gap in Dishonesty: Evidence from Local Politics in India

The forthcoming article “Time in Office and the Changing Gender Gap in Dishonesty: Evidence from Local Politics in India” by Ananish Chaudhuri, Vegard Iversen, Francesca R. Jensenius, and Pushkar Maitra is summarized by the authors below. 

Increasing female representation in public office has been widely promoted as a way of reducing corruption. Research suggests that women are more trustworthy, more risk averse, more honest, and lack the political networks necessary for engaging in malfeasance. Cross-sectional evidence shows that a higher share of women in parliament or in the state bureaucracy is associated with lower corruption. There is less corruption in municipalities with female mayors both in industrial (France) and developing countries (Brazil). In India, the annual rate of asset accumulation among female members of state legislative assemblies is significantly lower than among men.  

Much of this work treats women’s greater pro-sociality and risk aversion as static. Recent literature demonstrates how time in office and experience change the behavior of politicians, including their propensity towards corruption. This points to the need to consider the gender gap in corruption as dynamic rather than static.   

Researching political corruption is challenging. Survey responses often suffer from self-reporting biases, and elected politicians represent a hard-to-recruit subject pool. We address this knowledge gap using comprehensive survey and experimental data for a sample of 400 male and female local politicians in West Bengal, India. We compare incoming politicians with no prior political experience (“inexperienced”) with outgoing and re-elected politicians who had entered office without prior experience (“experienced”).   

In addition to answering survey questions, politicians participated in a series of incentivized experimental tasks. Of particular interest here is a die-tossing task, which is a standard behavioral measure of dishonesty that captures willingness to cheat for personal gain. Behavior in this game has been found to be strongly correlated with the propensity to act in a dishonest or corrupt way outside of the lab too, as well as with country-levels indicators of corruption. 

In the task, participants are asked to throw an unbiased die 30 times in private, with payment received according to the number of sixes they report. As there is no monitoring, one cannot know for sure whether individuals report truthfully. We use the deviation of the reported number of sixes from the expected number in 30 throws of the die as a group-level measure of (dis)honesty.   

Figure 1 shows the distribution of reported sixes for inexperienced and experienced politicians.  Among inexperienced politicians, women report significantly fewer sixes than men; among experienced politicians, the gender gap disappears – indicating that women become more inclined towards corrupt behavior with time in office. These patterns are robust to the inclusion of a host of individual-level control variables. 

Our analysis of possible mechanisms suggests that the greater dishonesty among experienced female politicians is driven primarily by reduced risk aversion and a strengthening of political networks. We do not find that the gap is associated with changes in pro-sociality or time-horizons in office.  

Our findings indicate that that women, like men, are socialized into local political cultures  and that effects on corruption levels by increasing the share of women in politics may be short-lived unless those local political cultures are also changed.  

About the Authors: Ananish Chaudhuri is a Professor of Experimental Economics at the University of Auckland, Vegard Iversen is a Professor of Development Economics at the University of Greenwich, Francesca R. Jensenius is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo, and Pushkar Maitra is a Professor of Economics at Monash University. Their research “Time in Office and the Changing Gender Gap in Dishonesty: Evidence from Local Politics in India” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.