The Importance of Political Inclusion in Diverse Societies: Welfare-Enhancing Effects of Descriptive Representation

There is largely a consensus that descriptive representation is advantageous for democracy, particularly in cases where groups have been historically marginalized. While there is a large literature demonstrating the positive effects of descriptive representation on political attitudes and participation among certain groups, there is little evidence directly testing the effects of descriptive representation on individuals’ behavior in everyday interactions. Given that extant theory predicts large positive `empowerment’ effects of descriptive representation, we test whether sharing a salient social identity with one’s representative increases risk taking behavior and interpersonal trust. We implement a laboratory experiment with minimal groups as well as naturally occurring identities to test the mechanism by which descriptive representation shapes behavior. We find evidence for individuals’ increased investment into future interactions with members of out-groups when societal decisions are based on descriptive representation and interpret this pattern as induced sense of empowerment.