Which Clients are Deserving of Help? A Theoretical Model and Experimental Test
Journal of Public Administration, Research & Theory, Forthcoming
31 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2018 Last revised: 16 Jan 2018
Date Written: 2018
Street-level bureaucrats have to cope with high workloads, role conflicts and limited resources. An important way in which they cope with this is by prioritizing some clients, while disregarding others. When deciding on whom to prioritize, street-level bureaucrats often assess whether a client is deserving of help. However, to date the notion of the deserving client is in a black box as it is largely unclear which client attributes activate the prevailing social/professional category of deservingness. This article therefore proposes a theoretical model of three deservingness cues that street-level bureaucrats employ to determine whom to help: earned deservingness (i.e., the client is deserving because (s)he earned it: “the hard-working client”), needed deservingness (i.e., the client is deserving because (s)he needs help: “the needy client”), and resource deservingness (i.e., the client is deserving as (s)he is probably successful according to bureaucratic success criteria: “the successful client”). We test the effectiveness of these deservingness cues via an experimental conjoint design among a nationwide sample of US teachers. Our results suggest that needed deservingness is the most effective cue in determining which students to help, as teachers especially intend to prioritize students with low academic performance and members of minority groups. Earned deservingness was also an effective cue, but to a lesser extent. Resource deservingness, in contrast, did not affect teachers’ decisions whom to help. The theoretical and practical implications of our findings for discretionary biases in citizen-state interactions are discussed.
Keywords: Street-Level Bureaucracy, Deservingness, Conjoint Experiment, Behavioral Public Administration, Citizen-State Interactions
JEL Classification: D73, D78, J2, J28, J58, J68, M12, M00, M12, O2, O32, O3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation