Expert Commentary

Jackie (and Jill) Robinson effect: Why do congresswomen outperform congressmen?

2011 study in American Journal of Political Science on the connection between gender and the effectiveness of elected officials.

A 2011 study from Stanford University and the University of Chicago published in the American Journal of Political Science, “The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?” tests and explores the hypothesis that successful female candidates may need to be more ambitious or qualified than their male challengers to overcome gender bias, and that once in office they tend to outperform their male counterparts.

The study, conducted by Sarah F. Anzia of Stanford University and Christopher R. Berry of the University of Chicago, compares the performances of congressmen and congresswomen within a given district as measured by the number of bills they sponsored and the amount of federal dollars they directed towards their home districts between 1984 and 2004.

Key study findings include:

  • In any given district over time, “roughly 9% [or $49 million] more federal spending is brought home when there is a woman representing the district in Congress than when the same district is represented by a man.” This so-called “female effect” explained more of the variations in federal funding distribution than does membership in the majority party at the time or the tenure of a congressperson.
  • Using various statistical controls to test for elements of good luck or “right time, right place” scenarios, the study found no significant preexisting conditions that favored an increase in district funding, and that funding levels indeed increased after a woman was elected.
  • The average newly-elected female legislator secured a 7% increase in funding for her district during her first year in office.
  • “On average, women sponsor about three more bills per Congress, which is a difference of roughly 17% relative to the member average of 18 bills [and] cosponsor about 26 more bills per congress than congressmen.”

The researchers state that female legislators’ success in securing federal dollars may be related to party-based decisions to direct funds to these districts, or to pressures to prove themselves in a male-dominated professional sphere.  Nevertheless, “women are some of the most effective politicians in Congress. One only has to look to the political selection process to understand why.”

Tags: women and work

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