Why Women Don’t Run for Office (As Much As Men Do)

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In the United States, women make up only 16.9 percent of our national legislature (i.e., Congress). That places us 91st in the world. In a new report, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox conclude that there are seven big reasons why women continue to lag so far behind men in the political world:

  1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
  2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
  3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
  4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
  5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
  6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office—from anyone.
  7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.

The authors don’t rank these items, and I’d guess that No. 2 is probably less important than most of the other items. It’s interesting nonetheless, as much for what it says about the media as it does for the population at large—though it’s too bad the authors don’t tell us how women’s perceptions of sexist treatment compared to men’s perceptions. (A partisan breakdown would have been interesting too.) All they say is that “women were statistically more likely than men (at p < .05) to contend that Clinton and Palin experienced sexist treatment and/or gender bias.”

In any case, the report, which is based on a survey of “lawyers, business leaders, educators, and political activists, all of whom are well-situated to pursue a political candidacy,” is interesting throughout. It’s worth a read.


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