Embedded in Social Cleavages: An Explanation of the Variation in Timing of Women's Suffrage



Under which conditions did introduction of women's suffrage occur before the First World War (early), and when only after the Second World War (late)? This article analyses necessary and sufficient conditions to explain both early and late introduction of women's suffrage in 14 Western European countries using Rokkan's cleavage theory, which distinguishes between four cleavages: religious, ethnic-linguistic, class and sectoral. In addition to testing Rokkan's cleavage theory, this study adds a structural dimension to agency-based studies on the role of the women's movement, which helps to explain why some such movements had much earlier success than others. Finally, this article advances the democratisation literature that takes the timing of the introduction of male suffrage as a proxy for the timing of the introduction of women's suffrage, as the timing of the introduction of male suffrage does not necessarily mean early introduction of women's suffrage. Based on fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA), the article shows that the absence of an ethnic-linguistic cleavage is a necessary condition for early introduction of women's suffrage. Moreover, the fuzzy-set analysis highlights that the absence of a religious cleavage combined with a class cleavage or a sectoral cleavage combined with the absence of a class cleavage is sufficient for early introduction of women's suffrage. Concerning late introduction of women's suffrage, it is the combination of a class cleavage with a religious cleavage or the presence of an ethnic-linguistic cleavage in the absence of a sectoral cleavage that prove to be sufficient.