why women in congress outperform men

From a working paper by political scientists Sarah Anzia and Christopher Berry:

We argue that the process of selection into political office is different for women than it is for men, which results in important differences in the performance of male and female legislators once they are elected. If voters are biased against female candidates, only the most talented, hardest working female candidates will succeed in the electoral process. Furthermore, if women perceive there to be sex discrimination in the electoral process, or if they underestimate their qualifications for office relative to men, then only the most qualified, politically ambitious females will emerge as candidates. We argue that when either or both forms of sex-based selection are present, the women who are elected to office will perform better, on average, than their male counterparts. We test this central implication of the theory by using legislators’ success in delivering federal spending to their home districts as our primary measure of performance. We find that congresswomen secure roughly 9 percent more spending from federal discretionary programs than congressmen. This amounts to a premium of about $49 million per year for districts that send a woman to Capitol Hill. Finally, we find that women’s superiority in securing particularistic benefits does not hurt their performance in policymaking: women also sponsor more bills and obtain more cosponsorship support for their legislative initiatives than their male colleagues.

Politico provides a summary of the research. Perhaps another implication of the theory is that as gender biases become less influential in the election process you’d expect that men and women will become more equitable in their Congressional performance.  I wonder if the same effect holds true among women executives. Are women executives stronger performers relative to their male counterparts?

Written by brayden king

September 15, 2009 at 8:15 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Interesting measure of performance–the ability to deliver pork back to your home district.

    I believe the evidence suggests that women perform on par with men in elections, and the bias lies on the selection into politics.



    September 15, 2009 at 9:43 pm

  2. women deliver more funding on an average => women are better fundraisers => this must be a selection effect.

    – seems a bit dubious



    September 16, 2009 at 6:26 am

  3. Isn’t this just standard Gary Becker?

    I’m actually a little annoyed they didn’t dwell more on his work



    September 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm

  4. I’d like to see these results replicated among other minorities to see if the process of selection is indeed driving this…



    September 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm

  5. What I find interesting is that even with the same logic (that intense selection against women means only the “best” women get through) the same results could be theoretically explained by saying that those women who are thus ‘selected’ have higher social, cultural and financial capital, and that those same conditions that promote their election also promote their success on the hill. but the explanation, at least as laid out here, seems exclusively individualistic and psychological. While I admire tenacity, there is certainly more than tenacity at play when we talk about electing a female Kennedy clan member.



    September 19, 2009 at 2:38 am

  6. […] asked Karen to comment on an article I saw yesterday about how women legislators perform better than their male counterparts—they pass more legislation, secure more co-sponsors, and bring home […]


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