A Woman’s Place? Gender and Political Leadership


Courtsey of pinterest

According to this House of Commons Library note here, as of 18 April 2014, a woman holds the post of president or prime minister in 18 countries

  • 9 countries have female presidents: Argentina, Brazil, Central African Republic, Chilie, Liberia, Lithuania, Malawi and South Korea.
  • 9 countries have female prime ministers: Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany, Jamaica, Latvia, Norway, Senegal, Slovenia and Trinidad & Tobago.

You can see a full list of female Presidents and Prime Ministers as of July this year here. Looking across to legislatures, only two countries in the world have more than 50% women in their legislature-though Cuba comes close-see here and also here .

One question we would be very interested in exploring is how or if gender makes a difference to leadership capital-are female leaders constrained or freed in different ways? In terms of leadership capital are they granted (or not granted) different amounts of capital by different groups? Do they then spend it differently? Below are  two papers offering some interesting findings.

Analysis of the influence of gender, through analysis of U.S. Mayoral leadership

This analysis of US Mayors concludes that ‘while female mayors do not implement different policies, they do appear to have higher unobserved political skills, as they have a 6-7 percentage point higher incumbent effect than a comparable male. But we find no evidence of political spillovers: exogenously electing a female mayor does not change the long run political success of other female mayoral candidates in the same city or of female candidates in local congressional elections’.

Ferreira, Fernando V. and Gyourko, Joseph, Does Gender Matter for Political Leadership? The Case of U.S. Mayors (December 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17671. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1973882

Symbolic influence of female heads of state

This paper offers a cross-sectional analysis of the impact of female heads of state looking across 50 countries. it argues that ‘the presence of a female head of state is as potentially transformative of women’s views of their roles in politics. In fact, if one considers the visibility and status of national executive office, the symbolic effects of a female executive could even trump that of an increase in female parliamentarians.’

Jalalzai, Farida and Alexander, Amy C., The Symbolic Effects of Female Heads of States and Government (August 21, 2014). The Symbolic Effects of Female Heads of States and Government . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2484806

Taken together, these early findings offer some interesting directions. Female leaders may not ‘do’ politics or policies differently but may have stronger incumbency and a powerful ‘symbolic’ capital. Could female leaders be ‘safer’ and, by their presence, pave the way for female successors?