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

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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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  1. Funding for this project comes from the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development of the European Union, project number 290529. This research project is part of ANTICORRP, ( ).

  2. NUTS stands for ‘Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics’ and is made up of statistical regions for the EU and other European countries. For further information, see:

  3. The sample of countries and corresponding NUTs level and regions are reported in Appendix 1.

  4. By ‘politically relevant’ region we mean one that has an elected parliament and exercises policy control over several areas, such as health care and education. Regions that are ‘politically relevant’ in this sample include: all regions in Italy, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Poland, France and Austria; three regions from the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland); and two from Portugal (Açores and Madeira).

  5. Summary statistics and sources for data used throughout this section are found in Appendix 2

  6. In general, Turkey is an outlier in our sample, and its exclusion noticeably increases almost all correlations in Table 1.


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Correspondence to Carl Dahlström.

Appendix 1: Sample and full data by country and region

Appendix 1: Sample and full data by country and region

Table 4

Table 4 Country data, abbreviations and NUTS level

Table 5

Table 5 Regional data

Table 6

Table 6 Summary statistics and data sources

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Charron, N., Dahlström, C. & Lapuente, V. Measuring Meritocracy in the Public Sector in Europe: a New National and Sub-National Indicator. Eur J Crim Policy Res 22, 499–523 (2016).

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