What happens when more women are involved in politics? Johnston Center alumna and Vanderbilt University Political Science Professor Amanda Clayton ’07 posed this question at the beginning of her November 6 talk, “The Benefits of Inclusive Representation,” at the University of Redlands.
Clayton spoke about her research into the topic, explaining she had become interested in women’s impact of society during her time as a Johnston student at the University of Redlands, where she studied microfinance and microlending, which provides groups of women small amounts of money to start their own ventures. “I became really interested in what happens when a woman gains access to an independent income,” she said.
After studying economic inequalities, Clayton began to focus on the structural inequalities that exist for women in politics. “In the last 20 years, women’s representation has increased dramatically in politics,” she said. “I wanted to study this increase to see if it had any consequences.”
In her doctoral research conducted in Lesotho, Namibia, and Uganda, Clayton found that countries with a high percentage of women in government had usually enacted “electoral gender quotas”—legislation requiring a certain number of women to fill legislative seats. Currently, 128 countries have supported and passed such legislation.
“On average, quotas double the number of women in politics in one electoral cycle,” Clayton said.
Clayton was curious to know if increasing the number of female legislators led to a change in policies. Her research revealed that, indeed, male majority governments were more likely to increase defense spending, while female majority governments were more likely to spend money on public health issues.
“This kind of research is supportive evidence for inclusive legislatures, and shows how these governments can become more representative of a country’s population,” Clayton said.
She also wanted to know if an increase in female representation changed attitudes toward women in politics. To find out, Clayton traveled to Lesotho, a country in southern Africa where a third of local council seats are now reserved for women. By administering implicit-association tests to the local populations, Clayton found that women under the age of 25 were the only group that displayed significantly less implicit bias toward a woman in politics, while the other tested groups displayed average results.
“These young women saw women in leadership throughout their adolescence,” Clayton said. “Role models are important, and if, young girls observe women in government early in their lives, they’re more likely to be interested in politics and run for office later in life.”
The talk was part of the Kathryn Green Lecture Series at the University of Redlands’ Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, which enables students to design their own unique interdisciplinary program to match their academic interests.