Jennifer Pate, Professor of Economics, Loyola Marymount University
Fit for the Role: Gender, Confidence, and Political Ambition in Elections (co-authored with Richard Fox , Political Science, LMU).
ABSTRACT: In spite of significant gains made in recent elections, women’s under-representation in U.S. politics is an empirical fact. The U.S. has recently climbed to 68th in the world in the percentage of women serving in the national legislature. While structures in the U.S. electoral system help explain the paucity of elected women, researchers have identified the persistent gender gap in political ambition as a key component. Among well-situated individuals, such as from professions most likely to precede a career in politics, women are significantly less likely to consider a career in politics than their male counterparts. Research to date has focused on explaining the gender gap in political ambition by identifying gender differences in factors such as self-assessed qualifications, recruitment experiences, risk aversion, and competitiveness. Using an innovative experimental design with a stereotypically female-oriented task, we draw several conclusions. First, we find that women, contrary to our expectations, are no more likely to run for office when the position they are seeking to hold plays to stereotypical strengths of women. This suggests that the gender gap in political ambition is not explained by a lack of confidence or concern about their own qualifications. We also find that men are significantly less interested in running for office when the job being sought is not perceived as well suited to them. Men, it appears, are more comfortable and willing to get involved in politics when it is defined in stereotypically masculine terms. This experiment identifies that it is indeed the very notion of participating in an election driving the gap in willingness between women and men.