NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does Gender Matter for Political Leadership?

February 14, 2012

What are the consequences of electing a female leader for policy and political outcomes?  In a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, authors Fernando Ferreira and Joseph Gyourko answer this question in the context of U.S. cities, where women's participation in mayoral elections increased from negligible numbers in 1970 to about one-third of the elections in the 2000s.

  • Ferreira and Gyourko use a novel data set of U.S. mayoral elections from 1950 to 2005, and apply a regression discontinuity design to deal with the endogeneity of female candidacy to city characteristics.
  • In contrast to most research on the influence of female leadership, they find no effect of gender of the mayor on policy outcomes related to the size of local government, the composition of municipal spending and employment, or crime rates.
  • While female mayors do not implement different policies, they do appear to have higher unobserved political skills, as they have a 6 to 7 percentage point higher incumbent effect than a comparable male.

But Ferreira and Gyourko find no evidence of political spillovers: exogenously electing a female mayor does not change the long run political success of other female mayoral candidates in the same city or of female candidates in local congressional elections.

Source: Fernando Ferreira and Joseph Gyourko, "Does Gender Matter for Political Leadership? The Case of U.S. Mayors," National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2011.

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