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The unequal descriptive and substantive representation of class Hemingway, Alexander Vincent

Abstract

This dissertation seeks to contribute to our understanding of unequal class representation among legislators in advanced democracies. In particular, the consequences of unequal class representation are examined quantitatively at the levels of both individual legislators and policy outcomes. This builds on a small number of recent studies showing that class representation does indeed matter, contrary to an earlier wave of literature and assumptions on this question. In addition, the possible causes of and potential solutions to the underrepresentation of working-class people are also explored. Paper 1 studies the relationship between legislators’ class and their attitudes and self-reported behaviour, drawing on existing survey data from 15 countries including 73 national and subnational parliaments in Europe and Israel. The results show that legislators from business backgrounds are more likely to support income inequality and small government, as well as less likely to consult with labour groups, than those from working-class and other backgrounds. An exploratory analysis also suggests that these class-based differences between legislators may vary across different institutional contexts. Paper 2 examines the relationship between the share of working-class representatives on Finnish municipal councils and the levels of social spending in those municipalities. Using an instrumental variables approach to exploit as-if-random variation in close elections, the analysis shows that a higher share of workers on these municipal councils is associated with higher levels of social spending. This represents one of the only studies showing that the effect of class carries through to policy outcomes. Paper 3 looks further back in the causal chain to explore the possible barriers to working-class people taking office, reviewing and analyzing the sparse literature on the topic and employing an exploratory analysis of the data sets used in the first paper to probe for further evidence. The paper also examines possible solutions and interventions that could help increase working-class representation. While recent research has examined these questions in some depth in the US case, this paper considers how we would expect barriers and solutions to vary across social and institutional contexts.

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