Deservingness and street-level decision-making

Two survey experiments on the use of discretion in the public sector

Published: 14 September 2022

When prioritising among clients, street-level bureaucrats may partly base their decisions on an assessment of the extent to which clients are deserving of help. We examine the impact of two “deservingness cues” on street-level decisions: the extent to which clients seem to need help and the extent to which clients appear to have responsibility for their neediness. The analysis is based on survey experiments with Swedish employment officers. We find that caseworkers devote more working time to jobseekers in greater need, but jobseekers in greater need have no increased likelihood of receiving a training program. In contrast, clients with greater responsibility for their neediness have a lower probability of receiving training, but caseworkers allocate just as much work time to these clients as they do to others. Thus, we confirm that client deservingness is important but qualify this conclusion along two dimensions. First, different cues of deservingness have different impacts for one and the same decision. Second, all types of decisions are not affected in the same way.


For further information, please contact Martin Lundin at e-mail or Josefin Häggblom at