Gender Quotas Boost Achievement for Girls, New Study Finds

January 12, 2012
By Doug Gavel

The use of gender quotas to achieve equal opportunity is a controversial political strategy, but one that seems to be achieving positive results in India. A new research paper co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Rohini Pande finds that the system designating female leaders for selected village councils in India has resulted in substantive gains for girls in those villages -- both in terms of aspirations and educational outcomes.

"Female Leadership Raises Aspirations and Educational Attainment for Girls: A Policy Experiment in India" is published in the January 12th edition of the journal Science.

In their research the authors analyzed data gleaned from more than 8000 surveys of adolescents and their parents in almost 500 villages, a third of which are randomly selected to reserve a seat for a female leader, called a "Pradhan," on the village council. The data showed that, "compared to villages that were never reserved, the gender gap in aspirations closed by 25% in parents and 32% in adolescents in villages assigned to a female leader for two election cycles."

The authors also conclude that girls raised in villages with a female Pradhan were more likely to score higher in school exams than girls from other villages, while test scores for boys remained roughly the same.

" These results show that laws can help create role models by opening opportunities that were previously unavailable to a group, and this increased opportunity does not diminish the aspirations of those outside the group," the authors argue. "Our study shows that, in the Indian context, the positive effect of exposure to a female leader dominated any possible backlash, probably because it gave women a chance to demonstrate that they are capable leaders. And, perhaps most importantly, our study establishes that the role model effect reaches beyond the realm of aspirations into the concrete, with real educational and time-use impacts."

The study is co-authored by Lori Beaman, Department of Economics, Northwestern University; Esther Duflo, Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Petia Topalova, International Monetary Fund.

Rohini Pande is Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her research examines how the design of democratic institutions and government regulation affects policy outcomes and citizen well-being, especially in South Asia. She has taught at Yale University, MIT and Columbia.

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Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy

Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy

"Our study shows that, in the Indian context, the positive effect of exposure to a female leader dominated any possible backlash, probably because it gave women a chance to demonstrate that they are capable leaders," writes Pande.