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Are the preferences of women and men unequally represented in public policies? This simple yet fundamental question has remained largely unexplored in the fast-growing fields of women’s representation and inequality in the opinion-policy link. Our study analyzes gender biases in policy representation using an original dataset covering 43 countries and four decades, with citizens’ preferences regarding more than 4,000 country-year policies linked to information about actual policy change. Our analysis reveals clear and robust evidence that women’s policy preferences are underrepresented compared to those of men. While this skew is fairly modest in terms of congruence, women’s representation is driven mostly by the high correlation of preferences with men. When there is disagreement, policy is more likely to align with men’s preferences. Our analyses further suggest that women’s substantive underrepresentation is mitigated in contexts with high levels of female descriptive representation and labor market participation. In sum, our study shows that gender inequality extends to the important realm of policy representation, but there is also meaningful variation in unequal representation across contexts.
Several recent studies have found unequal policy responsiveness, meaning that the policy preferences of high-income citizens are better reflected in implemented policies than the policy preferences of low-income citizens. This has been found mainly in a few studies from the US and a small number of single-country studies from Western Europe. However, there is a lack of comparative studies that stake out the terrain across a broader group of countries. We analyze survey data on the policy preferences of about 3,000 policy proposals from thirty European countries over nearly forty years, combined with information on whether each policy proposal was implemented or not. The results from the cross-country data confirm the general pattern from previous studies that policies supported by the rich are more likely to be implemented than those supported by the poor. We also test four explanations commonly found in the literature: whether unequal responsiveness is exacerbated by (a) high economic inequality, (b) the absence of campaign finance regulations, (c) low union density, and (d) low voter turnout.
Building a strong autocratic state requires stability in ruler-elite relations. From this perspective the absence of a successor is problematic, as the elite have few incentives to remain loyal if the autocrat cannot reward them for their loyalty after his death. However, an appointed successor has both the capacity and the motive to challenge the autocrat. We argue that a succession based on primogeniture solves the dilemma, by providing the regime with a successor who can afford to wait to inherit the throne peacefully. We test our hypothesis on a dataset covering 961 monarchs ruling 42 European states between 1000 and 1800, and show that fewer monarchs were deposed in states practicing primogeniture than in states practicing alternative succession orders. A similar pattern persists in the world's remaining absolute monarchies. Primogeniture also contributed to building strong states: In 1801 all European monarchies had adopted primogeniture or succumbed to foreign enemies.
A substantial number of studies support the notion that having a high number of women in elected office helps strengthen the position of women in society. However, some of the most cited studies rely on questionnaires asking elected representatives about their attitudes and priorities, thus focusing on the input side of the political system. The closer one gets to outcomes in citizens’ everyday lives, the fewer empirical findings there are to report. In this study, we attempt to explain contemporary variations in gender equality at the sub-national level in Sweden. We use six indicators to capture a broad spectrum of everyday life situations. The overall finding is that having a high number of women elected does affect conditions for women citizens, making them more equal to men in terms of factors such as income levels, full-time vs. part-time employment, and distribution of parental leave between mothers and fathers, even when controlling for party ideology and modernization at the municipal level. No effect was found, however, on factors such as unemployment, poor health, and poverty among women. Thus, the politics of presence theory (Phillips, 1995), which emphasizes the importance of having a high number of women elected, does exert an effect, but the effect needs to be specified. For some dimensions of gender equality, the driving forces of change have more to do with general transformations of society than the equal distribution of women and men in elected assemblies. We thoroughly discuss measurement challenges since there is no accepted or straightforward way of testing the politics of presence theory. We challenge the conventional wisdom of using indexes to capture the network of circumstances that determines the relationship between women and men in society; aggregating several factors undermines the possibility of building fine-tuned understandings of the operative mechanisms.
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