Comparative Politics

REDUCING PREJUDICE THROUGH DESCRIPTIVE REPRESENTATION: Evidence From A Natural Experiment in Israeli Medical Clinics



Descriptive representation in public goods provision is associated with enhance services, and increased institutional trust amongst minorities. Nonetheless, whether such representation shapes majority citizens’ attitudes towards minorities is unclear. Building on the representative bureaucracy and intergroup contact literatures, I develop a theory of prejudice reduction through descriptive representation, which I test with a natural experiment leveraging the random assignment of Jewish patients to Arab doctors across 21 medical clinics in Israel. I demonstrate that representative institutions facilitating intergroup contact between doctors and patients improve majority-group perceptions of minorities. Contact with an Arab doctor reduces Jewish patients’ social distance preference towards Arabs by approximately a fifth of a standard deviation, and increases Jewish patients’ perceptions about the feasibility of peace by approximately a tenth of a standard deviation. My theory and evidence demonstrate how descriptive representation in public goods provision can improve intergroup relations through a mechanism of positive intergroup contact.

Version notes

Several additional robustness checks have been added to the paper, and the framing has been slightly modified.


Thumbnail image of v4.pdf


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