Religion, Politician Identity, and Development Outcomes: Evidence from India
Executive Summary — Minority social groups may be disadvantaged by policy choices made by democratically elected leaders. It is therefore pertinent to consider whether increasing the political representation of minority groups improves their outcomes. This paper investigates whether the religious identity of state legislators in India influences development outcomes, both for citizens of their religious group and for the population as a whole. Results show that raising the share of Muslim legislators in individual districts leads to a large and statistically significant decline in infant and neonatal mortality rates. Importantly, they find no significant difference in the impact of Muslim political representation on Muslim compared with non-Muslim households. Indeed, the estimated coefficients indicate smaller beneficial impacts for Muslim children. Overall, these findings contribute to a recent literature on the relationship between religion and development, and to the literature on politician identity. Key concepts include:
- In this study, health and education results show a consistent pattern whereby raising the share of Muslims in India's state assemblies improves developmental outcomes for children overall.
- There is no evidence of differential benefits flowing to Muslim children. Perhaps surprisingly, gains in child mortality are concentrated among non-Muslim households.
- Other literature has examined the relevance of the ethnicity and gender of politicians. This study provides the first evidence for religion.
- This study is timely given the increasing politicization of religion in India and the frequency of Hindu-Muslim violence.
- As of the 2001 census, India had the third largest Muslim population in the world. Muslims in India are, on average, poorer than Hindus.
This paper investigates whether the religious identity of state legislators in India influences development outcomes, both for citizens of their religious group and for the population as a whole. To control for politician identity to be correlated with constituency level voter preferences or characteristics that make religion salient, we use quasi-random variation in legislator identity generated by close elections between Muslim and non-Muslim candidates. We find that increasing the political representation of Muslims improves health and education outcomes in the district from which the legislator is elected. We find no evidence of religious favoritism: Muslim children do not benefit more from Muslim political representation than children from other religious groups.