NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why More Women Vote Democratic

October 25, 2002

A greater proportion of women than men identify themselves as Democrats, and the gap has risen significantly over the past few decades --from 2 percent in 1952 to 12 percent in 1996. Traditional explanations focus on the rise in female labor force participation, the opposition of females to conservatives on issues such as abortion, the rise of feminism, and declining importance of religion.

However, some experts argue that none of these theories adequately explains the shift of American women to left, and they suggest that the causes, at least among middle income voters, lie in the higher divorce rates and the general decline in marriage:

  • Women's lower earnings make them more vulnerable when divorced or otherwise single.
  • Following 1970s divorce law reforms, divorce rates went from 3 percent in 1964 to 10 percent in 1996; and the proportion of married adults dropped from 84 percent to 58 percent -- resulting in an increase of poorer women over the past few decades.
  • Assuming that party affiliation is driven by income, this explains why women have increasingly leaned to the left.
  • Since the converse is also true (that is, men who divorce or don't marry become richer), this implies that higher divorce rates have caused the gap to widen.

Researchers find that as much as 94 percent of the change in the political gender gap can be explained by higher divorce rates. In fact, they estimate that divorce makes a man 27 percent less likely to be a Democrat and makes a woman 20 percent more likely to be a Democrat. These results stand even when other explanations (such as religion or labor force participation) are included in the estimation.

Source: "Why Women Lean Left", Economic Intuition, Fall 2001; based on Lena Edlund and Rohini Pande, "Why Have Women Become Left-Wing? The Political Gender Gap and the Decline in Marriage", Forthcoming.


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