MIT’s Esther Duflo has won this year’s John Bates Clark Medal, the most prestigious award around for young economists. I don’t believe this is the main focus of her research, but I think her 2008 paper “Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?” (PDF) is interesting and accessible:
We exploit random assignment of gender quotas across Indian village councils to investi- gate whether having a female chief councillor affects public opinion towards female leaders. Villagers who have never been required to have a female leader prefer male leaders and per- ceive hypothetical female leaders as less effective than their male counterparts, when stated performance is identical. Exposure to a female leader does not alter villagers’ taste pref- erence for male leaders. However, it weakens stereotypes about gender roles in the public and domestic spheres and eliminates the negative bias in how female leaders’ effectiveness is perceived among male villagers. Female villagers exhibit less prior bias, but are also less likely to know about or participate in local politics; as a result, their attitudes are largely unaffected. Consistent with our experimental findings, villagers rate their women leaders as less effective when exposed to them for the first, but not second, time. These changes in attitude are electorally meaningful: after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a female chief councillor.
Co-authors on the paper are Lori Beaman, Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Rohini Pande
and Petia Topalova.