NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women Vote For Welfare

April 19, 2000

Woman's suffrage contributed to the growth of the welfare state, say Burton Abrams and Russell Settle of the University of Delaware's Economics Department. Historically, women have earned less than their male counterparts, and studies show that extending the voting franchise to include lower income people leads to growth in government, especially growth in redistribution expenditures.

  • During the period of 1950-1988, U.S. states made changes in poll taxes and literacy requirements which added significant numbers of less affluent people to the voting rolls and raised welfare spending.
  • In 1971, Switzerland extended voting rights to women, who were earning two-thirds as much as men; after extending the franchise, Swiss social welfare spending increased 28 percent.

Comparatively, neighboring countries spent more on social welfare than Switzerland before the enfranchisement of Swiss women. But the gap was significantly reduced after 1971.

  • From 1960 to 1972, Italy and Switzerland spent approximately the same amounts per capita on social welfare programs; German expenditures averaged 27 percent more than Swiss expenditures over the same period, while French outlays were 54 percent greater.
  • As a result of the rapid expansion in social welfare spending in the mid-1970s, Switzerland spent an average of 16 percent more than Italy over the decade following the enfranchisement of women, while from 1972-1982 the French spent only 25 percent more per capita and Germany a mere 8 percent more.

In contrast to what happened with Swiss social welfare spending, the trend in government spending on final goods and services (i.e., government consumption) appears unaffected by the enfranchisement of women. This is line with earlier evidence that suggested raising voter turnout among lower income groups (by eliminating poll taxes and literacy tests), would lead to an increase in government redistribution expenditures, with no increase in government consumption spending.

Source: Burton A. Abrams and Russell F. Settle, "Women's Suffrage and the Growth of the Welfare State" Public Choice, September 1999.


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