Moving Beyond Tokenism: Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Election of Women to State Legislatures


  • *Direct correspondence to Jocelyn Elise Crowley, Associate Professor, The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 33 Livingston Ave., Ste. 202, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 〈〉. All data and coding decisions will be shared with those wishing to replicate the study. The author thanks John Spry, Dudley Poston, Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Karolyn Tyson, Maryann Barakso, and M. B. Crowley for their helpful comments. Kira Sanbonmatsu graciously shared data for this project as well.


Objective. State legislative bodies that contain more than a token level (15 percent) of female representatives provide these lawmakers with a greater sense of self-efficacy and opportunities for wider policy influence than those where women number under 15 percent. The objective of this study is to determine the set of factors that carry states across this critical threshold, with a particular emphasis on the political mobilization effects of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification drive.

Method. This study used event-history analysis methods on state-level data collected from 1972–2000.

Results. I find that states that ratified the ERA, but not states that ratified only later to rescind, had a higher likelihood of crossing this token threshold as compared with states that never ratified at all. These results obtain even after controlling for the social eligibility pool of female candidates, the political opportunity structure, the social context of each state, and preexisting levels of female representation.

Conclusions. The ERA ratification campaign during the 1970s and early 1980s created long-lasting, state-level effects in electing women through its role as a political education tool as well as through its symbolic power.