Panel Paper: Socioeconomic Representation: A New Dimension for the Theory of Representative Bureaucracy

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8216 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katie Vinopal, The Ohio State University

While a large body of existing representative bureaucracy scholarship rightly documents the potential for racial and gender representation in public institutions to ease institutional biases and reduce suboptimal outcomes for disadvantaged groups, socioeconomic representation has not yet been empirically explored. The proposed paper begins to fill this gap in the literature by empirically testing whether socioeconomic representation—above and beyond and interacting with racial representation—affects bureaucrats’ relationships with and views of clients. More specifically, this project uses the education context to ask whether, compared to teachers from high-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, teachers from low-SES backgrounds have better relationships with their low-SES students.

Existing literature gives cause to suspect that SES representation might affect bureaucratic perceptions and/or relationships with clients. First, research suggests that child rearing practices and family functioning is heavily influenced by the availability of economic and social resources in a way that advantages middle class individuals by making them more fluent in the “rules of the game” that regulate interactions with institutions such as schools, government agencies, and doctors’ offices (Lareau 2003). Given this, bureaucrats from low-SES backgrounds themselves may be better able to communicate and empathize with low-SES clients. Second, there is evidence that bureaucrats stereotype clients based on SES. For example, research shows that teachers rate low-SES students has having lower performance potential than high-SES students, even controlling for actual performance (e.g. Campbell 2015; Auwater & Aruguete 2008; Rist 1970). Thus, low-SES clients may face implicit or explicit bias based on their SES. Perhaps such biases are eased among bureaucrats who are from low-SES backgrounds themselves, and are familiar with the challenges these clients face compared to high-SES clients.

While an exploration of the effects of SES representation is new and important in its own right, such analyses must be done in the context of what is already known about the importance of racial representation. The current analyses will explore the effect of SES representation holding constant and interacting with racial representation. This allows for a better understanding of the extent to which previously documented effects of racial representation can be explained (or not) by SES representation. Finally, increasingly, scholars have emphasized the need to account for contextual factors that affect the substantive effects of representation, including factors that influence the saliency of the attribute being analyzed. Accordingly, the proposed paper investigates the effects of SES representation by school SES context.

This proposed analysis relies on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-2011 (ECLS-K), a nationally representative, longitudinal study of students who start kindergarten in the fall and spring of 2010, collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). A student fixed effects method is employed to isolate the effect of teacher-student socioeconomic match on teachers’ ratings of closeness and conflict in their relationship with the student. Results will advance and expand the theory of representative bureaucracy, inform the distribution of teachers across school and student contexts, and partially disentangle the effects of racial versus SES representation.