Getting more women into politics: Evidence from India


2019/05/24 00:00

In India’s recently concluded 2019 national elections, under 10% of the candidates were women. This column examines the potential reasons behind this, and argues that improving women’s knowledge, self-confidence, voice, and mobility could have significant effects on their political participation. It finds no evidence of a role model effect whereby women winning in elections encourages future women candidates, however, and the evidence on whether quotas can improve future women’s political participation is inconclusive.


Despite women constituting half the world’s population, they account for less than a quarter of the membership of national parliaments globally. Such descriptive or numerical under-representation can have consequences for substantive representation of women’s interests. Previous research has shown that, in many instances, greater political participation by women does result in policy choices more attuned to women’s needs and concerns (Chattopadhyay and Duflo 2004, Miller 2008, Iyer et al. 2012). Moreover, having more women in elected office has been shown to lead to broader societal benefits such as better infant mortality rates (Bhalotra and Clots-Figueras 2014), better education outcomes in urban areas (Clots-Figueras 2012) and lower corruption (Brollo and Troiano 2016).

尽管妇女占世界人口的一半,但她们在全球议会中的比例不到四分之一。这种描述性或数字代表性不足会对妇女利益的实质代表产生影响。之前的研究表明,在许多情况下,女性更多的政治参与确实导致政策选择更加适应女性的需求和关注(Chattopadhyay和Duflo 2004,Miller 2008,Iyer等人,2012)。此外,更多妇女担任民选职务已被证明可以带来更广泛的社会福利,例如更好的婴儿死亡率(Bhalotra和Clots-Figueras 2014),城市地区更好的教育成果(Clots-Figueras 2012)和更低的腐败(Brollo和Troiano 2016)。

In this column, I examine some of the causes behind the low representation of women in political office, whether the examples of some women winning elections can create a virtuous cycle of greater women’s representation in future, and whether gender quotas can be an effective way to increase women’s political voice. Most of the evidence I review comes from India, the world’s largest democracy, though many of these facts and findings generalise to the US, the world’s second largest democracy.


Explaining the low political candidacy of women in India


The lack of women political candidates is a potentially critical barrier to their eventual representation in government. For instance, in India’s recently concluded 2019 national election, over 13% of those elected to parliament were women. But only 8.8% of the candidates were women! So, conditional upon contesting, women exhibit somewhat stronger chances of winning than men. The same holds true at the state level too. We analysed data from India’s state assemblies over 1980-2007 and found that while women comprised 5.5% of all state legislators over this period, only 4.4% of the candidates were women. In the US, women held 24% of the seats in Congress in 2019, while about 29% of candidates in the 2018 midterm elections were women. In contrast to this large gender gap in candidacy, there is no gender gap in voting in India, with women turning out to vote at the same rates as men in state and national elections after 2010. In the US, women’s voter turnout has been higher than that of men since 1970.

缺乏女性政治候选人是他们最终代表政府的一个潜在的重要障碍。例如,在印度最近结束的2019年全国大选中,超过13%的当选议员是女性。但只有8.8%的候选人是女性!因此,在竞争的条件下,女性比男性表现出更强的获胜机会。在州一级也是如此。我们分析了1980 - 2007年印度各州议会的数据,发现虽然在此期间女性占所有州议员的5.5%,但只有4.4%的候选人是女性。在美国,2019年女性占国会席位的24%,而2018年中期选举中约29%的候选人是女性。与候选资格中存在巨大的性别差距相比,印度的投票没有性别差距,2010年之后,在州和全国选举中,女性投票率与男性相同。在美国,女性选民投票率更高比1970年以来的男性。

What might explain the low political candidacy of women? In a survey conducted in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, we find that women are also much less likely to report being part of other electoral activities such as participation in campaigns, listening to candidate speeches, or membership in political parties (Iyer and Mani 2019). We found that women lag behind on several potential determinants of political participation, such as knowledge about how political institutions work, their self-assessed leadership skills, and their voice in key household decisions (for example, only one-third of women report having a high level of input into household repair decisions). A similar ‘ambition gap’ has been documented for women in the US, despite their much higher levels of education and labour force participation compared to India (Lawless and Fox 2010). Women in rural India also face significant mobility restrictions (for example, 46% of women in our survey report requiring permission even to go to nearby places such as a friend’s house), while women in urban India often forgo important opportunities due to concerns about safety (Borker 2018). All of these factors, together with education, household wealth and religion or caste, can explain approximately 69% of the gender gap in electoral political participation. This suggests that improving women’s knowledge, self-confidence, voice and mobility can have significant effects on their political participation.1

什么可以解释女性的政治候选人资格低?在印度最大的北方邦(Uttar Pradesh)进行的一项调查中,我们发现,女性参与竞选活动,听取候选人演讲或参加政党活动等其他选举活动的可能性也大大降低(Iyer和Mani 2019) )。我们发现女性在政治参与的几个潜在决定因素上落后,例如关于政治机构如何运作的知识,他们自我评估的领导技能,以及他们在关键家庭决策中的发言权(例如,只有三分之一的女性报告有高水平的家庭维修决策投入)。尽管与印度相比,他们的教育水平和劳动力参与程度要高得多(Lawless and Fox 2010),但美国女性的“野心差距”也有类似记录。印度农村地区的妇女也面临着严重的行动限制(例如,在我们的调查报告中,有46%的妇女要求获准去附近的地方,例如朋友家),而印度城市的妇女由于担心安全问题而经常放弃重要的机会(Borker 2018)。所有这些因素,加上教育,家庭财富和宗教或种姓,都可以解释大约69%的选举政治参与中的性别差距。这表明,提高女性的知识,自信心,发言权和流动性可以对她们的政治参与产生重大影响

Is there a role model effect?


Could we then generate a ‘virtuous cycle’ whereby women winning a few elections would then increase the self-confidence of potential women candidates (via a role-model effect) and thereby increase women’s candidacy in the next election? Alternatively, voters may initially have been apprehensive about the idea of a woman representative, having rarely seen one before. After experiencing a woman representative, they may become more comfortable with voting for women candidates next time. Similarly, party leaders may be more willing to nominate women candidates after observing their electoral success.


We set out to examine whether such a role-model effect exists by examining women’s electoral success and subsequent female candidacy in India’s state-level elections (Bhalotra et al. 2018). We put together data on 3,473 electoral constituencies over the three-decade period from 1980 to 2007. State governments in India’s federal system have considerable authority over several policy domains, including law and order, health, and education. If we simply compare female candidacy in constituencies previously won by a woman to constituencies won by men, it may not be a valid comparison. For instance, in places where women win, voters might be more woman-friendly to begin with and that may encourage female candidacy, irrespective of whether the woman or lost. In other words, we would be picking up differences in voter preferences rather than any demonstration effect of women’s electoral success.

我们通过研究印度国家级选举中女性的选举成功和随后的女性候选人资格,开始研究是否存在这种角色模型效应(Bhalotra et al.1188)。在1980年至2007年的三十年间,我们汇总了3,473个选区的数据。印度联邦体系中的州政府对几个政策领域拥有相当大的权力,包括法律和秩序,健康和教育。如果我们只是将女性先前获得的选区中的女性候选人资格与男性赢得的选区进行比较,那么这可能不是一个有效的比较。例如,在妇女获胜的地方,选民可能更容易从女性开始,这可能会鼓励女性候选人,无论是女性还是失去女性。换句话说,我们会选择选民偏好的差异,而不是女性选举成功的任何示范效应。

We therefore perform a regression discontinuity analysis, comparing electoral constituencies in which a woman won narrowly against a man to those in which a man won narrowly against a woman. The premise is that in areas with mixed-gender close elections, those in which a women wins are very similar to those in which a man wins, and that the outcome of such close elections is decided by ‘quasi-random’ idiosyncratic factors.


We document three important findings. First, we find that a woman’s electoral victory leads to an 18.5 percentage point higher probability of having a woman major party candidate in the next election. This is completely attributable to an increased propensity of the incumbent woman to stand for re-election. Disappointingly, we find no evidence that new women are encouraged to contest. However, we should note that the (woman) incumbent obtaining her party’s nomination for re-election is an important achievement in Indian politics, where 34% of female incumbents and 28% of male incumbents do not contest for re-election despite there being no term limits.


Second, there are no spillover effects of observing a woman’s victory: other parties do not switch to fielding women candidates, and there is no increase in female candidacy in nearby constituencies.


Third, we find some evidence of a ‘backlash’ effect for new women candidates. In states where gender bias is known to be deeply entrenched (we proxy this by the share of women in the population, a lower share being indicative of sex-selective abortions and/or neglect of women’s health), a woman’s electoral victory is followed by a significant decline in the share of new women candidates in the next election. We investigated whether our results might be explained by a shortage of potential women candidates by exploiting a 1993 constitutional amendment that mandated a gender quota, with one-third of all seats in village and district councils being set aside for women. This created a very large pool of women with at least some experience of politics and governance. We do not find larger candidacy responses to women’s electoral victory at the state level after this change was implemented, so it seems that a shortage of potential women candidates cannot explain our results.


This lack of a demonstration effect is not specific to India, or to women. In our own analysis, we find a very similar pattern of results for Muslims, who are a religious minority and considerably under-represented in political office, despite their presence making a positive difference to health and education outcomes (Bhalotra et al. 2014). There is no entry of new Muslim candidates following a Muslim’s electoral victory, and the candidacy response is more negative in states in which Muslims form a smaller share of the population. In the US, where incumbents almost always win re-election, Broockman (2013) nevertheless finds that women’s electoral victories have no impact on future women’s candidacy in nearby constituencies.


The impact of quotas


More than 100 countries have implemented some form of gender quotas in an effort to improve women’s representation in leadership positions. While these may provide descriptive representation, the evidence is mixed on how well quotas can improve future women’s political participation. Our survey in Uttar Pradesh found that the presence of women village leaders had no impact on any measures of electoral participation for women (Iyer and Mani 2019). In a non-political context, seven years after Norway implemented a 40% gender quota for corporate board members, there was no change in female enrolment in business education programmes (Bertrand et al. 2019). Other studies are more encouraging – de Paola, Lombardo and Scoppa (2010) document increased political participation of women in Italy after a short-term gender quota in local government. Perhaps quotas need a longer time to work – data from India’s West Bengal state show that women’s political candidacy increases, and young girls are more likely to view themselves in leadership roles, only after a village council has been headed by a woman for two consecutive terms (Beaman et al. 2009, 2012). More research is needed on when and how gender quotas can be more effective, and on non-quota alternatives to improving women’s political participation.

100多个国家实施了某种形式的性别配额,以提高妇女在领导职位中的代表性。虽然这些可能提供描述性表示,但有关配额如何改善未来妇女政治参与的证据不一。我们在北方邦的调查发现,女性村领导的存在对女性选举参与的任何措施都没有影响(Iyer和Mani,2019)。在非政治背景下,挪威在公司董事会成员实施40%的性别配额后七年,商业教育计划中的女性入学率没有变化(Bertrand等,2019)。其他研究更令人鼓舞 - de Paola,Lombardo和Scoppa(2010)记录了当地政府短期性别配额后女性在意大利的政治参与度增加。也许配额需要更长的工作时间 - 来自印度西孟加拉邦的数据显示,女性的政治候选资格增加,年轻女孩更有可能将自己视为领导角色,只有在一个村委会由女性连任两届后(Beaman等人,2009年,2012年)。需要更多关于性别配额何时以及如何更有效的研究,以及关于改善妇女政治参与的非配额替代方案的研究。



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[1] Interestingly, Iyer and Mani (2019) find that gender gaps in non-electoral political participation (activities such as attendance and participation at village council meetings, interactions with public officials at the village, block or district level and involvement with public petitions) are much larger than the gender gaps in electoral political participation. The factors listed above explain only 42% of the gender gap in non-electoral political participation.

[1]有趣的是,Iyer和Mani(2019)发现非选举政治参与中的性别差距(参加村委会会议,与村级,街区或地区级公职人员互动以及参与公众请愿等活动) )比选举政治参与中的性别差距大得多。上述因素仅解释了非选举政治参与中性别差距的42%。

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