Women as policymakers do make a difference

Women as policymakers do change lives

Thushyanthan Baskaran, Zohal Hessami

The actual fact that women are underrepresented in politics is often considered a significant social problem. But why should it be considered a problem? This column argues that whenever too little women hold political office, political decisions might not adequately reflect women’s needs and preferences. Using the exemplory case of the general public provision of childcare in Germany, it demonstrates municipalities with an increased share of female councillors expand public childcare quicker. The fact that the current presence of women has substantive effects on policies ought to be considered in current debates around the introduction of gender quotas in politics.


Women are underrepresented in political offices just about everywhere around the world. Figure 1 illustrates this based on the share of ladies in national parliaments in 2019. Normally, women only constitute 23% of national parliamentarians. Similar degrees of underrepresentation could be observed at subnational tiers of government aswell.

Figure 1

Note: Predicated on World Bank’s World Development Indicators. Darker shades indicate a more substantial proportion of seats held by ladies in national parliaments.

An all natural question to ask is whether this underrepresentation affects policy choices and thereby potentially reduces women’s welfare. The response to this question has direct implications for current public debates around the introduction of interventions such as for example quotas to improve female representation. Such measures will be deemed necessary if political underrepresentation indeed has adverse consequences for women’s welfare.

Previous literature mainly targets the effect of ladies in executive political offices on policies (Chattopadhyay and Duflo 2004, Brollo and Troiano 2017). However, the question of whether ladies in deliberative bodies (such as for example parliaments or local councils) have substantive effects on policies has been largely neglected in the economic literature. 1 That is a significant gap since major policy changes typically require legislative approval.

Inside our study (Baskaran and Hessami 2019), we address this question using the exemplory case of the municipal provision of public childcare. We analyse whether an increased share of female councillors affects the expansion of the amount of local public childcare spots. Public childcare spots certainly are a public good whose provision is planned and administered by local councils. For instance, local councillors measure the dependence on childcare, provide municipal plots for construction and donate to the financing of childcare facilities.

Survey evidence implies that public childcare is an increased priority for women than for men (Wippermann 2016) and that female labour supply is highly attentive to the option of childcare (Gathmann and Sass 2018). Concurrently, Figure 2 implies that demand for childcare continues to outpace supply by a broad margin in Germany.

Figure 2

Note: Predicated on data from the German Youth Institute (DJI) Kinderbetreuungsreport 2018. The subfigures show the share of parents with children below 3 (subfigure a), between 3-6 (subfigure b), and between 6-11 (subfigure c) reporting shortages (i.e. insufficient hours or no available spots) in child care provision across all 16 German states.

If an increased representation of ladies in politics has substantive effects on policies – and specifically, means that women’s needs and preferences are more adequately met – you can expect that municipalities with an increased share of female councillors achieve a faster expansion of public childcare.

Alternatively, there are several explanations why an increased share of female officeholders might not affect policies in the end. Since women have voting rights, male politicians in office likewise have incentives to take into consideration women’s policy preferences. Furthermore, even a strong upsurge in the share of ladies in local councils wouldn’t normally change the actual fact that women certainly are a minority (typically about 20% in Bavaria and other areas of Germany). Therefore, the ladies in office is probably not in a position to change policies even if indeed they have different preferences than men.

We study the result of female political representation on policies in the context of the two 2,056 municipalities in Bavaria as this specific setting has several methodological advantages. First, Bavarian local councils are very small, with 53% of Bavarian municipalities having between seats and 89% of municipalities having 8 to 20 seats. The entry of 1 additional female councillor therefore includes a large influence on the share of female councillors. Second, Bavarian municipalities depend on an open-list electoral system (generally known as preference voting or preferential voting) that allows us to use an empirical strategy that captures the causal aftereffect of female councillors on the expansion of public childcare.

In order to conduct this study, we hand-collected micro-data on about 225,000 local council candidates which were running the Bavarian local elections in 2002, 20. These data include information on the gender, party affiliation, list placement, occupation, and age of individual candidates.

From a methodological perspective, the biggest challenge is due to the actual fact that municipalities with a big share of female councillors may systematically change from those with a minimal share of female councillors. For example, the former could be more left-leaning or even more apt to be urban. We address this endogeneity problem by exploiting the actual fact an open-list voting system can be used. Open-list elections essentially bring about duels between candidates who operate on the same party list. Especially in regards to to the last seat that accrues to a celebration, a duel occurs between two candidates that almost have the same number of individual votes.

Ex ante, it really is impossible to predict who’ll win this duel, particularly when this is a close outcome. This quasi-experiment we can run estimations predicated on a regression-discontinuity design. Therefore, we end up comparing the expansion of public childcare across municipalities that, typically, have the same characteristics and only happen by chance to differ within their share of female councillors.

Our results show that one additional woman in the neighborhood council accelerates the expansion of public childcare by 0.4 spots per 1,000 inhabitants or by about 40%. Furthermore, we find that the expansion occurs mostly for childcare spots for teenagers (3-6 years and 6-11 years) rather than for children in nurseries below age three or in secondary schools aged 11 to 14 years.

Our main results show that women do have substantive effects on the provision of childcare. But how exactly does this effect happen? To answer this question, we analyse the minutes of local council meetings held about one time per month in each municipality. We hand-collected and analysed a lot more than 7,700 minutes of council meetings. Specifically, we measure how often people speak up and which subjects are raised.

Theoretically, various mechanisms might drive our main results. For example, a rise in the share of female councillors raises the amount of votes in the council which can be cast by female councillors. This may have a primary influence on policymaking if the votes on these decisions are usually split evenly. After carefully looking through the minutes we are able to, however, exclude this mechanism. In nearly all municipalities, these votes aren’t split; the councillors deliberate to discover a consensus and afterwards have a vote. Generally, these decisions are taken unanimously or with large majorities.

Our analysis of the minutes rather demonstrates one additional woman on the council indirectly affects the council meetings. If a female enters the council rather than a man, all ladies in the council, normally, speak up more regularly (beyond the mechanical effect that arises because of having yet another female councillor). Furthermore, the main topic of childcare is discussed more often. These results show that one additional woman in the council leads all women to play a far more active part in the council meetings.

One explanation could possibly be that the extreme minority status of ladies in Bavarian local councils is reduced significantly when yet another woman enters the council. Experimental evidence implies that women have a tendency to be less self-confident and less ready to take on leadership if they end up in male-dominated environments (Born et al. 2018). By reducing the extreme minority status of women through one additional female councillor, the influence of ladies in a deliberative body for instance a local council then rises disproportionately.

Several extensions inside our study support this interpretation. For example, we find an additional woman only comes with an impact if for the most part three other women are otherwise on the neighborhood council. If there are more women on the neighborhood council, yet another woman does not have any measurable effect on policymaking. This demonstrates it is necessary for women to have the ability at all to play a role in the council debates. Whenever a woman is in the council, she can steer the deliberations along a different path, for example by attracting new perspectives or raising other subjects. If there are just a few additional women on the council, the feminine influence rises disproportionately as the women can support one another and second each other’s statements within an environment where they perceive themselves as less of a minority.

Our study illustrates that women ought to be adequately represented in politics to make certain their needs and preferences are believed. A primary implication of our results is that voters must be aware that they are not merely electing individual politicians in elections but they are also thereby implicitly making substantive policy choices. Voters who value the provision of public childcare may, for example, want to cast their vote towards female candidates instead of male candidates. An additional implication of our results is that interventions to improve female representation, notably quotas, could be appropriate considering that underrepresentation seems to reduce women’s welfare.

Baskaran, T and Z Hessami (2019), "Competitively elected women as policy makers". CESifo Working Paper No. 8005.

Born, A, E Ranehill, and A Sandberg (2018), "A man’s world? the impact of a male dominated environment on female leadership", Working Paper in Economics No. 744, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.

Brollo, F and U Troiano (2016), "What goes on whenever a woman wins a close election? Evidence from Brazil", Journal of Development Economics 122: 28-45.

Chattopadhyay, R and E Duflo (2004), "Women as policy makers: evidence from a randomized experiment in India", Econometrica 72: 1409-1443.

Gathmann, C and B Sass (2018), "Taxing childcare: effects on female labor supply and children", Journal of Labor Economics 36: 665-709.

Hessami, Z and M Lopes da Fonseca (2019), "Female Political Representation and Substantive Effects on Policies: A Literature Review", mimeo.

Wippermann, C (2016), Was junge Frauen wollen, Report Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

1 For a far more detailed discussion of previous literature on the result of female politicians on policies, see Hessami and Lopes da Fonseca (2019).