The Gender Gap in American Politics
In their study, Girls Just Wanna Not Run: The Gender Gap in Young Americans' Political Ambition, Jennifer Lawless of American University and Richard L. Fox of Loyola Marymount University point out that "researchers have provided compelling evidence that when women run for office - regardless of the position they seek - they are just as likely as men to win their races." The large disparity in male and female elected officials, they claim, is not the result of systematic discrimination against women but is simply due to the fact that women do not run for office.
Their 2012 survey of 1,020 male and 1,097 female college students ages 18 to 25 "reveals that young women and men are not equally politically ambitious." Of those surveyed, males were twice as likely as women to have thought about running for office "many times," whereas women were 20 percentage points more likely than men never to have considered it. When asked about future plans to run for office, women were more than 50 percent more likely to assert that they would never run, articulating absolutely no interest in a future candidacy.
When asked about jobs they would most like to hold in the future, the study shows that when presented with four job possibilities, business owner, teacher, mayor of a city or town, and salesperson, and told to assume each paid the same amount of money, men were nearly twice as likely as women to select mayor as their preferred job.
Of significant interest is the fact that young women and men were equally likely to have participated in the political activities about which they were asked. From voting to e-mailing about a cause or issue, to posting about or following a politician or political issue, there were comparable rates of activism between males and females. The difference was found where women were more likely than men to aspire to volunteer to improve their communities rather than to make it their career.
The 25 page study concludes with the authors' statistical findings that five factors hinder young women's political ambition: 1) young men are more likely than young women to be socialized by their parents to think about politics as a possible career path; 2) from their school experiences to their peer associations to their media habits, young women tend to be exposed to less political information and discussion than do young men; 3) young men are more likely than young women to have played organized sports and care about winning; 4) Young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office - from anyone; and 5) young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for office, even once they are established in their careers.
The need to close the gender gap in elected office in America, and the long-stated NFRW objective of recruiting female candidates to run for office, make the findings of this study particularly important. If women are less likely to receive encouragement to run for office and are more likely to doubt their political qualifications; and if seeds for an eventual candidacy are planted early in life, young women need to be exposed to environments that trigger and sustain political interest and ambition and encourage them to consider running for office later in life. Click here to access the study.