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Does Paying Politicians More Promote Economic Diversity in Legislatures?



If politicians in the United States were paid better, would more middle- and working-class people become politicians? Reformers often argue that the low salaries paid in state and local governments make holding office economically infeasible for lower-income citizens and contribute to the enduring numerical under-representation of the working class in our political institutions. Of course, raising politicians’ salaries could also make political office more attractive to affluent professionals, increasing competition for office and ultimately discouraging lower-income citizens from running and winning. In this article, we test these hypotheses using data on the salaries and economic backgrounds of state legislators. Contrary to the notion that paying politicians more promotes economic diversity, we find that the descriptive representation of the working class is the same or worse in states that pay legislators higher salaries. These findings have important implications for research on descriptive representation, political compensation, and political inequality.


Corresponding author

Nicholas Carnes is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University (
Eric R. Hansen is Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (


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Does Paying Politicians More Promote Economic Diversity in Legislatures?



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