Equal access to the top? Representative bureaucracy and politicians’ recruitment preferences for top administrative staff

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-550
Journal / PublicationJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes


Although a voluminous literature on representative bureaucracy and minority discrimination suggests that characteristics other than qualifications influence hiring decisions, little is known about whether this also pertains to the top positions in political-administrative organizations. To shed light on this question, we ask how candidate ethnicity, gender, and age affect the recruitment preferences among politicians regarding the candidates for top administrative positions. Our study uses a survey experiment with random assignment of 1,688 Flemish local politicians to one of eight different descriptions of applicants to the leading managerial position of their local authority. We find that ethnic minorities, women, and younger candidates are generally considered more qualified for the job. Moreover, the impact of ethnicity and gender on recruitment preferences is conditional on politicians’ ideological predispositions: Left-wing politicians consider ethnic minority candidates more competent, whereas right-wing politicians consider them less representative and are less inclined to invite them for job interviews than candidates from the ethnic majority. Furthermore, politicians furthest to the left are more inclined than right-wing politicians to recognize women as representative of the public at large and support inviting them for job interviews.

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