Women in Politics. Ask the SystemA STUDY BY PROFETA AND WOODHOUSE ANALYZES THE HYPOTHESIS OF A TRADEOFF BETWEEN FEMALE REPRESENTATION IN POLITICS AND QUALITY OF LEADERSHIP
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union database, 121 countries out of 193 have less than 25% female representation. The under-representation of women on the political stage has been addressed in the literature. Paola Profeta and Eleanor Woodhouse (Department of Social and Political Sciences) did it in a novel way, focusing on the role of electoral rules.
In majoritarian systems, the personal exposure of the candidate is more relevant than in proportional systems. The majoritarian systems require a stronger will to compete to which women tend to be more adverse than men. It means that proportional electoral rules favor the election of women with respect to majoritarian ones. At the same time, the majoritarian system enhance the quality of elected politicians. “We wondered if there is a quantity-quality trade-off associated with electoral rules and female representation”.
To provide an answer, the authors collected data on the range of Italian politicians from all levels of government over the period 1987-2013. The 2005 Italian reform changed the electoral rule for national elections from majoritarian to proportional. This change allowed the researchers to test the effects of electoral systems on the representation of women and the quality of politicians measured by their educational level and subnational experience.
“We found out that the proportional electoral rule has promoted women’s representation without a reduction of the quality of politicians”, Paola Profeta says. “We also found evidence of a negative selection effect under proportional rules: the elected women were not the best candidates. This was particularly the case in the Southern Italian regions that are more gender traditional. The overall quality of elected politicians could have increased if the best female candidates had been selected”.
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by Claudio Todesco