HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.


The evidence now seems clear that, once you look beyond roll call votes, Black legislators do a better job than Whites of representing Black constituents, women legislators do a better job than men of representing female constituents, and legislators from working-class backgrounds do a better job than others of representing working-class constituents.1 If there were no costs to increasing the representation of these constituents by legislators with the same personal background characteristics (“descriptive” representation), we should redesign our institutions to do so. But there are some costs. One broad cost derives from focusing citizens’ attention on their own and legislators’ background characteristics rather than the capacity and desire of those legislators to promote effective public policies. A narrower and less important cost arises when the funds required for increasing descriptive representation must be taken from some other worthy expenditure. I argue here that we should be more willing to pay the relevant costs when particular historical contexts make descriptive representation more democratically valuable.


Mansbridge, Jane. "Should Workers Represent Workers?" Swiss Political Science Review 21.2 (June 2015): 261-270.