Skip to main content Accessibility help

Women’s Representation, Accountability and Corruption in Democracies

  • Justin Esarey and Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer


At the turn of the twenty-first century, an important pair of studies established that greater female representation in government is associated with lower levels of perceived corruption in that government. But recent research finds that this relationship is not universal and questions why it exists. This article presents a new theory explaining why women’s representation is only sometimes related to lower corruption levels and provides evidence in support of that theory. The study finds that the women’s representation–corruption link is strongest when the risk of corruption being detected and punished by voters is high – in other words, when officials can be held electorally accountable. Two primary mechanisms underlie this theory: prior evidence shows that (1) women are more risk-averse than men and (2) voters hold women to a higher standard at the polls. This suggests that gender differences in corrupt behavior are proportional to the strength of electoral accountability. Consequently, the hypotheses predict that the empirical relationship between greater women’s representation and lower perceived corruption will be strongest in democracies with high electoral accountability, specifically: (1) where corruption is not the norm, (2) where press freedom is respected, (3) in parliamentary systems and (4) under personalistic electoral rules. The article presents observational evidence that electoral accountability moderates the link between women’s representation and corruption in a time-series, cross-sectional dataset of seventy-six democratic-leaning countries.



Hide All

Department of Political Science, Rice University (email:; Department of Political Science, Rice University (email: We would like to thank the participants and audiences at the numerous workshops and departmental colloquia where we presented this paper, including ‘Why is Gender Equality Good for Governance?’ at Freie Universitat, Berlin; the University of Tennessee; the University of Maryland; the Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University; the Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg; the European Conference on Politics and Gender in Uppsala, Sweden; and ITAM, Mexico City. We also thank Margit Tavits for sharing the data that she and Leslie Schwindt-Bayer collected. Data replication sets including logs, analysis scripts and data files are available at and online appendices are available at



Hide All
Adserà, Alícia, Boix, Carles, and Payne, Mark. 2003. Are You Being Served? Political Accountability and Quality of Government. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 19:445490.
Alatas, Vivi, Cameron, Lisa, Chaudhuri, Ananish, Erkal, Nisvan, and Gangadharan, Lata. 2009. Gender, Culture, and Corruption: Insights from an Experimental Analysis. Southern Economic Journal 75:663680.
Alhassan-Alolo, Namawu. 2007. Gender and Corruption: Testing the New Consensus. Public Administration and Development 27 (3):227237.
Anzia, Sarah F., and Berry, Christopher R.. 2011. The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen? American Journal of Political Science 55:478493.
Armantier, Olivier, and Boly, Amadou. 2011. A Controlled Field Experiment on Corruption. European Economic Review 55:10721082.
Barnes, Tiffany D., and Beaulieu, Emily. 2014. Gender Stereotypes and Corruption: How Candidates Affect Perceptions of Election Fraud. Politics & Gender 10:365391.
Bauer, Gretchen, and Tremblay, Manon. 2011. Women in Executive Power: A Global Overview, 1st Edition. New York: Routledge.
Bernasek, Alexandra, and Shwiff, Stephanie. 2001. Gender, Risk, and Retirement. Journal of Economic Issues 35:345356.
Bjarnegård, Elin. 2013. Gender, Informal Institutions and Political Recruitment: Explaining Male Dominance in Parliamentary Representation. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William Roberts, and Golder, Matt. 2006. Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses. Political Analysis 14:6382.
Branisa, Boris, and Ziegler, Maria. 2011. Reexamining the Link Between Gender and Corruption: The Role of Social Institutions. Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin. Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics. Available from, accessed 19 November 2014.
Byrnes, James P., Miller, David C., and Schafer, William D.. 1999. Gender Differences in Risk-Taking: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin 125:367383.
Cain, Bruce, Ferejohn, John, and Fiorina, Morris. 1990. The Personal Vote: Constituency Service and Electoral Independence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Carey, John M., and Shugart, Matthew Soberg. 1995. Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas. Electoral Studies 14:417439.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 2013. CIA World Factbook. Available from, accessed 22 June 2016.
Chang, Eric C. C. 2005. Electoral Incentives for Political Corruption Under Open-List Proportional Representation. Journal of Politics 67:716730.
Chang, Eric C. C., and Golden, Miriam A.. 2007. Electoral Systems, District Magnitude and Corruption. British Journal of Political Science 37:115137.
Chaudhuri, Ananish. 2012. Gender and Corruption: A Survey of the Experimental Evidence. In New Advances in Experimental Research on Corruption , edited by Danila Serra and Leonard Wantchekon, 1349. Bingley, UK: Emerald.
Childs, Sarah, and Krook, Mona Lena. 2012. Labels and Mandates in the United Kingdom. In The Impact of Gender Quotas, edited by Susan Franceschet, Mona Lena Krook and Jennifer M. Piscopo, 89102. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cingranelli, David, and Richards, David. 2010. The Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Dataset. Available from, accessed 22 June 2016.
Clague, Christopher, Keefer, Philip, Knack, Stephen, and Olson, Mancur. 1999. Contract-Intensive Money: Contract Enforcement, Property Rights, and Economic Performance. Journal of Economic Growth 4:185211.
Croson, Rachel, and Gneezy, Uri. 2009. Gender Differences in Preferences. Journal of Economic Literature 47:448474.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2010. The Impact of Gender Stereotyped Evaluations on Support for Women Candidates. Political Behavior 32:6988.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2014. Gender Stereotypes, Candidate Evaluations, and Voting for Women Candidates What Really Matters? Political Research Quarterly 67:96107.
Dollar, David, Fisman, Raymond, and Gatti, Roberta. 2001. Are Women Really the ‘Fairer’ Sex? Corruption and Women in Government. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 46:423429.
Donchev, Dilyan, and Ujhelyi, Gergely. 2014. What Do Corruption Indices Measure? Economics & Politics 26:309331.
Dowling, Conor M., and Miller, Michael G.. 2015. Can Information Alter Perceptions About Women’s Chances of Winning Office? Evidence from a Panel Study. Politics & Gender 11:5588.
Eckel, Catherine C., and Grossman, Philip J.. 2008. Men, Women, and Risk Aversion: Experimental Evidence. In Handbook of Experimental Economic Results, Vol. 1, edited by Charles Plott and Vernon Smith, 10611073. New York: Elsevier.
Economist, The . 2013. What is Brazil’s ‘Mensalão’? The Economist, 18 November. Available from, accessed 5 April 2014.
Elgie, Robert. 2011. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Esarey, Justin, and Chirillo, Gina. 2013. ‘Fairer Sex’ or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender, and Institutional Context. Politics and Gender 9:390413.
Esarey, Justin, and DeMeritt, Jacqueline H. R.. 2014. Defining and Modeling State-Dependent Dynamic Systems. Political Analysis 22:6185.
Fisman, Raymond, and Miguel, Edward. 2007. Corruption, Norms, and Legal Enforcement: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets. Journal of Political Economy 115:10201048.
Fox, Richard L., and Lawless, Jennifer L.. 2004. Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office. American Journal of Political Science 48:264280.
Franceschet, Susan, and Piscopo, Jennifer M.. 2008. Gender Quotas and Women’s Substantive Representation: Lessons from Argentina. Politics & Gender 4:393425.
Freedom House. 2014. Freedom in the World. Available from, accessed 4 February 2014.
Gerring, John, and Thacker, Strom C.. 2004. Political Institutions and Corruption: The Role of Unitarism and Parliamentarism. British Journal of Political Science 34:295330.
Gneezy, Uri, Leonard, Kenneth L., and List, John A.. 2009. Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence from a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society. Econometrica 77:16371664.
Goetz, Anne Marie. 2002. No Shortcuts to Power: Constraints on Women’s Political Effectiveness in Uganda. The Journal of Modern African Studies 40:549575.
Goetz, Anne Marie. 2007. Political Cleaners: Women as the New Anti-Corruption. Development and Change 38:87105.
Grimes, Marcia, and Wängnerud, Lena. 2012. Good Government in Mexico: The Relevance of the Gender Perspective. QoG Working Paper Series. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg. Available from, accessed 25 October 2016.
Hellwig, Timothy, and Samuels, David. 2008. Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes. British Journal of Political Science 38 (1):6590.
Helmke, Gretchen, and Levitsky, Steven. 2004. Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda. Perspectives on Politics 2:725740.
Henrich, Joseph, and McElreath, Richard. 2002. Are Peasants Risk-Averse Decision Makers? Current Anthropology 43 (1):172181.
Holt, Charles A., and Laury, Susan K.. 2002. Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects. The American Economic Review 92:16441655.
Hsiao, Cheng. 2003. Analysis of Panel Data. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Norris, Pippa. 2003. Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Inter-Parliamentary Union. 2012. Women in Parliaments: World and Regional Averages. Available from, accessed 11 July 2012.
Inter-Parliamentary Union. n.d. Women’s Suffrage. Available from, accessed 2 January 2016.
Johnson, Janet Elise, Einarsdóttir, Þorgerður, and Pétursdóttir, Gyða Margrét. 2013. A Feminist Theory of Corruption: Lessons from Iceland. Politics & Gender 9:174206.
Johnson, Jesse C., Souva, Mark, and Smith, Dale L.. 2013. Market-Protecting Institutions and the World Trade Organization’s Ability to Promote Trade. International Studies Quarterly 57:410417.
Johnson, Joel W., and Wallack, Jessica S.. 1997. Electoral Systems and the Personal Vote. Harvard Dataverse Network. Available from V1, accessed 22 June 2016.
Jones, Philip Edward. 2014. Does the Descriptive Representation of Gender Influence Accountability for Substantive Representation? Politics & Gender 10:175199.
Judson, Ruth A., and Owen, Ann L.. 1999. Estimating Dynamic Panel Data Models: A Guide for Macroeconomists. Economics Letters 65:915.
Kahn, Carrie. 2013. Mexican State’s Anti-Corruption Plan: Hire Female Traffic Cops. Available from, accessed 23 April 2014.
Karim, Sabrina. 2011. Madame Officer. Americas Quarterly, 5. Available from, accessed 20 July 2012.
Kaufmann, Daniel, Kraay, Aart, and Mastruzzi, Massimo. 2007. Measuring Corruption: Myths and Realities. Available from, accessed 19 December 2015.
Kaufmann, Daniel, Kraay, Aart, and Mastruzzi, Massimo. 2010. The Worldwide Governance Indicators: Methodology and Analytical Issues. Policy Research Working Paper No. 5430. Washington, DC: World Bank. Available from, accessed 25 October 2016.
Knack, Stephen. 2007. Measuring Corruption: A Critique of Indicators in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Journal of Public Policy 27:255291.
Kolstad, Ivar, and Wiig, Arne. 2011. Does Democracy Reduce Corruption? Working Paper No. 4. Bergen, Norway: Chr. Michelsen Institute. Available from, accessed 25 October 2016.
Kunicová, Jana. 2006. Democratic Institutions and Corruption: Incentives and Constraints in Politics. In International Handbook on the Economics of Corruption, edited by Susan Rose-Ackerman, 140160. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
Kunicová, Jana, and Rose-Ackerman, Susan. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science 35:573606.
Lambsdorff, Johann Graf. 2006. Measuring Corruption – The Validity and Precision of Subjective Indicators (CPI). In Measuring Corruption, edited by Charles J. G. Sampford, Arthur Shacklock, Carmel Connors, and Fredrik Galtung, 8199. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Lawless, Jennifer L. 2004. Women, War, and Winning Elections: Gender Stereotyping in the Post-September 11th Era. Political Research Quarterly 57:479490.
Lawless, Jennifer L., and Fox, Richard L.. 2005. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lebovic, James H., and Voeten, Erik. 2009. The Cost of Shame: International Organizations and Foreign Aid in the Punishing of Human Rights Violators. Journal of Peace Research 46:7997.
Lederman, Daniel, Loayza, Norman V., and Soares, Rodrigo R.. 2005. Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter. Economics & Politics 17:135.
Linz, Juan J. 1990. The Perils of Presidentialism. Journal of Democracy 1:5169.
Linz, Juan J. 1994. Presidential or Parliamentary: Does It Make a Difference?. In The Failure of Presidential Democracy, Vol. 1, edited by Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, 390. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Mainwaring, Scott, and Shugart, Matthew Sobert. 1997. Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal. Comparative Politics 29:449472.
Marshall, Monty, Gurr, Ted Robert, and Jaggers, Keith. 2014. Polity IV Project Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2013: Dataset Users’ Manual. Available from, accessed 9 November 2014.
McDermott, Jeremy. 1999. International: Women Police Ride In On A Ticket of Honesty. The Daily Telegraph, 31 July 31, 17.
Mishra, Ajit. 2006. Persistence of Corruption: Some Theoretical Perspectives. World Development 34:349358.
Moore, Molly. 1999. Mexico City’s Stop Sign to Bribery; To Halt Corruption, Women Traffic Cops Replace Men. The Washington Post, 31 July, A15.
Morgan, Jana, and Buice, Melissa. 2013. Latin American Attitudes Toward Women in Politics: The Influence of Elite Cues, Female Advancement, and Individual Characteristics. American Political Science Review 107:644662.
Murray, Rainbow. 2010. Cracking the Highest Glass Ceiling: A Global Comparison of Women’s Campaigns for Executive Office, 1st Edition. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Neyman, Jerzy, and Scott, Elizabeth L.. 1948. Consistent Estimates Based on Partially Consistent Observations. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society 16 (1):132.
Nickell, Stephen. 1981. Biases in Dynamic Models with Fixed Effects. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society 49 (6):14171426.
Paul, David, and Smith, Jessi L.. 2008. Subtle Sexism? Examining Vote Preferences When Women Run Against Men for the Presidency. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 29:451476.
Persson, Torsten, Roland, Gerard, and Tabellini, Guido. 1997. Separation of Powers and Political Accountability. Quarterly Journal of Economics 112:11631202.
Persson, Torsten, and Tabellini, Guido. 2002. Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Persson, Torsten, Tabellini, Guido, and Trebbi, Francesco. 2003. Electoral Rules and Corruption. Journal of the European Economic Association 1:958989.
Political Risk Services Group. 2012. ICRG Methodology. Available from, accessed 11 July 2012.
Provost, Claire. 2013. Is Transparency International’s Measure of Corruption Still Valid? The Guardian, 3 December.
Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael E., Cheibub, Jose Antonio, and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Regimes and Material Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. In Political Science and the Public Interest, edited by Edward D. Mansfield and Richard Sisson. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
Quinones, Sam. 1999. Stop! Ms, December, 24.
Reed, William Robert. 2015. On the Practice of Lagging Variables to Avoid Simultaneity. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 77:897905.
Rodríguez, Victoria E. 2003. Women in Contemporary Mexican Politics. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Roodman, David. 2006. How to Do xtabond2: An Introduction to ‘Difference’ and ‘System’ GMM in Stata. The Stata Journal 9:86136.
Rose-Ackerman, Susan. 1999. Corruption and Government: Causes, Consequences, and Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Royston, Patrick, and White, Ian R.. 2011. Multiple Imputation by Chained Equations (MICE): Implementation in Stata. Journal of Statistical Software 45:120.
Rubin, Donald B. 1996. Multiple Imputation After 18+ Years. Journal of the American Statistical Association 91:473489.
Samuels, David, and Shugart, Matthew. 2003. Presidentialism, Elections and Representation. Journal of Theoretical Politics 15:3360.
Samuels, David, and Shugart, Matthew. 2010. Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schulze, Günther G., and Frank, Björn. 2003. Deterrence Versus Intrinsic Motivation: Experimental Evidence on the Determinants of Corruptibility. Economics of Governance 4:143160.
Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie. 2010. Political Power and Women’s Representation in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie, and Tavits, Margit. 2016. Clarity of Responsibility, Accountability and Corruption. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie A., Malecki, Michael, and Crisp, Brian F.. 2010. Candidate Gender and Electoral Success in Single Transferable Vote Systems. British Journal of Political Science 40:693709.
Seltzer, Richard A., Newman, Jody, and Leighton, Melissa Voorhees. 1997. Sex as a Political Variable: Women as Candidates and Voters in U.S. Elections. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Shugart, Matthew, and Carey, John M.. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Stockemer, Daniel. 2011. Women’s Parliamentary Representation in Africa: The Impact of Democracy and Corruption on the Number of Female Deputies in National Parliaments. Political Studies 59:693712.
Sundén, Annika E., and Surette, Brian J.. 1998. Gender Differences in the Allocation of Assets in Retirement Savings Plans. The American Economic Review 88:207211.
Sundström, Aksel, and Wängnerud, Lena. 2016. Corruption as an Obstacle to Women’s Political Representation Evidence from Local Councils in 18 European Countries. Party Politics 22 (3):354369.
Sung, Hung-En. 2003. Fairer Sex or Fairer System? Gender and Corruption Revisited. Social Forces 82:703723.
Swamy, Anand, Knack, Stephen, Lee, Young, and Azfar, Omar. 2001. Gender and Corruption. Journal of Development Economics 64:2555.
Tavits, Margit. 2007. Clarity of Responsibility and Corruption. American Journal of Political Science 51:218229.
Teorell, Jan, Charron, Nicholas, Samanni, Marcus, Holmberg, Sören, and Rothstein, Bo. 2015. The Quality of Government Dataset, Version Jan 15. University of Gothenburg: The Quality of Government Institute. Available from
Transparency International. 2011. Methodological Brief. Available from, accessed 11 July 2012.
Transparency International. 2015. Research – GCB – Overview. Available from, accessed 15 December 2015.
Treisman, Daniel. 2000. The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study. Journal of Public Economics 76:399457.
Treisman, Daniel. 2007. What Have We Learned About the Causes of Corruption from Ten Years of Cross-National Empirical Research? Annual Review of Political Science 10:211244.
Tripp, Aili. 2001. Women’s Movements and Challenges to Neopatrimonial Rule: Preliminary Observations from Africa. Development and Change 32:3354.
van Buuren, Stef. 2012. Flexible Imputation of Missing Data. Boca Raton, FL: Chapman and Hall/CRC.
Wangnerud, Lena. 2012. Why Women Are Less Corrupt than Men. In Good Government: The Relevance of Political Science, edited by Sören Holmberg and Bo Rothstein, 230250. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
Watson, David, and Moreland, Amy. 2014. Perceptions of Corruption and the Dynamics of Women’s Representation. Politics & Gender 10:392412.
Watson, John, and McNaughton, Mark. 2007. Gender Differences in Risk Aversion and Expected Retirement Benefits. Financial Analysts Journal 63:5262.
World Bank. 2013. World Development Indicators. Available from, accessed 4 February 2014.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Esarey and Schwindt-Bayer Dataset

Supplementary materials

Esarey and Schwindt-Bayer supplementary material
Tables S1-S6 and Figure S1

 PDF (171 KB)
171 KB

Women’s Representation, Accountability and Corruption in Democracies

  • Justin Esarey and Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.