When Are Women More Effective Lawmakers Than Men?


  • The authors thank Claire Abernathy, Chris Berry, Janet Boles, Kimberly Beth Cowell-Meyers, Kathy Dolan, Juanita Firestone, Matt Hitt, Chris Kypriotis, Lauren Mattioli, William Minozzi, Beth Reingold, Kira Sanbonmatsu, Lynn Sanders, Michele Swers, Andrew Taylor, Sean Theriault, Sophie Trawalter, Denise Walsh, and seminar participants at the University of Virginia for helpful comments on earlier drafts, and James Austrow, Tracy Burdett, Chris Kypriotis, and Brian Pokosh for valuable research assistance. This project also benefited from the use of Scott Adler and John Wilkerson's Congressional Bills Project data, Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones's Policy Agendas Project data, and Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal's Nominate data. Replication data for this article are available at http://dvn.iq.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/ajps/faces/study/StudyPage.xhtml?globalId=hdl:1902.1/18911.

Craig Volden is Professor of Politics and Public Policy, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, 203 Garrett Hall, P.O. Box 400893, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4893 (volden@virginia.edu). Alan E. Wiseman is Associate Professor of Political Science and Law (by Courtesy), Vanderbilt University, 230 Appleton Place, PMB 0505, Nashville, TN 37203-5721 (alan.wiseman@vanderbilt.edu). Dana E. Wittmer is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colorado College, 14 E. Cache La Poudre, Colorado Springs, CO 80909 (dana.wittmer@coloradocollege.edu).


Previous scholarship has demonstrated that female lawmakers differ from their male counterparts by engaging more fully in consensus-building activities. We argue that this behavioral difference does not serve women equally well in all institutional settings. Contentious and partisan activities of male lawmakers may help them outperform women when in a polarized majority party. However, in the minority party, while men may choose to obstruct and delay, women continue to strive to build coalitions and bring about new policies. We find strong evidence that minority party women in the U.S. House of Representatives are better able to keep their sponsored bills alive through later stages of the legislative process than are minority party men, across the 93rd–110th Congresses (1973–2008). The opposite is true for majority party women, however, who counterbalance this lack of later success by introducing more legislation. Moreover, while the legislative style of minority party women has served them well consistently across the past four decades, majority party women have become less effective as Congress has become more polarized.