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Welfare Policymaking and Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in U.S. State Legislatures


  • The authors are grateful to Jessica Harrell and Carleen Graham for their research assistance. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2009 “Reducing Poverty: Assessing Recent State Policy Innovations and Strategies” Conference at Emory University, the 2010 State Politics and Policy Conference in Springfield, IL, the 2010 Meetings of the American Political Science Association in Washington, DC, and workshops in the Emory Departments of Political Science and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. We thank Drew Linzer, Georgia Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, Neil Malhotra, Holona LeAnne Ochs, Claire Wofford, Rick Wilson, four anonymous AJPS reviewers, and many other colleagues for their very helpful comments and suggestions. Replication data for this study are available at Research support was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES-0618368, Kathleen A. Bratton, Kerry L. Haynie, and Beth Reingold, Principal Investigators) and the Institute for Advanced Policy Solutions, the Provost's Strategic Fund, and the Department of Women's Studies at Emory University.

Beth Reingold is Associate Professor of Political Science and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Emory University, 1555 Dickey Dr., Atlanta, GA 30322 ( Adrienne R. Smith is a PhD candidate in Political Science, Emory University, 1555 Dickey Dr., Atlanta, GA 30322 (


Welfare policy in the American states has been shaped profoundly by race, ethnicity, and representation. Does gender matter as well? Focusing on state welfare reform in the mid-1990s, we test hypotheses derived from two alternative approaches to incorporating gender into the study of representation and welfare policymaking. An additive approach, which assumes gender and race/ethnicity are distinct and independent, suggests that female state legislators—regardless of race/ethnicity—will mitigate the more restrictive and punitive aspects of welfare reform, much like their African American and Latino counterparts do. In contrast, an intersectional approach, which highlights the overlapping and interdependent nature of gender and race/ethnicity, suggests that legislative women of color will have the strongest countervailing effect on state welfare reform—stronger than that of other women or men of color. Our empirical analyses suggest an intersectional approach yields a more accurate understanding of gender, race/ethnicity, and welfare politics in the states.