The Lessons Private Schools Teach:
Using a Field Experiment to Understand the Effects of Private Schools on Political Behavior
Government services have often been found to act as important sites of political socialization. Through interactions with institutions and functionaries of the state, individuals learn important lessons about their worth as citizens and the functioning of democracy, form preferences over government services, and understand the value of political participation. What then happens when governments no longer provide basic services and are replaced by the private sector? I explore these questions in the context of a large private school voucher experiment. I leverage the randomized distribution of private school vouchers to understand the impact of private schools on citizen’s engagement with the state. Based on an original household survey of 1,200 households conducted five years after a voucher lottery, I find that voucher winning households hold stronger market-oriented beliefs than voucher losing households. Voucher winning households are willing to pay more for private services and express a preference for private service provision. However, voucher winning households show no difference in political participation. Evidence suggest that this is driven by two factors: access to new networks through which to make political demands, and belief in private providers as permanent economic actors. These results suggest economic preferences are malleable and exposure to different economic actors, in the form of private schools, have the potential to change them.
Emmerich Davies is an Assistant Professor of International Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His work focuses on education and Indian political economy, with a regional focus on Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. His work to date looks at the causes and consequences of private education in India on political behavior and beliefs. Other research interests include the political participation of the poor in low-income democracies. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania.