Measuring Meritocracy in the Public Sector in Europe: a New National and Sub-National Indicator

Since the late nineteenth century, the presence of an independent and meritocratic bureaucracy has been posited as an advantage for effective bureaucratic behaviour and a means of limiting patrimonial networks and corruption, among other benefits. There is little consensus on how the features of an independent and meritocratic bureaucracy should be measured across countries, however, and broad empirical studies are therefore rare. What is more, the few such studies that exist have advanced measures which are constructed exclusively on expert surveys. Although these have indeed contributed to the knowledge in the field, the data on which they are built come with problems. This paper proposes a set of novel measures that complement existing measures and thus fill important gaps in this burgeoning literature. The measures we present are not based on expert assessments but on perceptions of public sector employees’ and citizens’. We create two measures—that can be combined into one—from a recent survey (2013) of over 85,000 citizens in 24 European countries. One is purely based on the assessments from public sector employees’ and the other is based on perceptions of citizens working outside the public sector. The paper also discusses the survey and explores the external validity of the measures provided here, showing correlations with alternative measures based on expert opinions, as well as variables from the literature that we would expect to correlate highly with a meritocratic bureaucracy.

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