The Proportion of Women in National Parliament as a Measure of Women’s Status in Society

In 2009, I examined the proportion of women in national parliaments as a measure of women’s status in society. Apparently, we get link rot here, too.

Representation in decision-making (i.e. the share of women in national legislatures) is often used as an indicator of the wider integration of women in political and everyday life. This research note examines whether the proportion of women in national parliament really can be regarded as a measure of women’s status in society. I argue — based on correlations and a scatter plot — that the proportion of women in parliament is a reasonably good indicator of status, with the benefit of being based on readily available data.

Working paper: Ruedin 2009 Status Working Paper

Ruedin, Didier. 2009. ‘The Proportion of Women in National Parliament as a Measure of Women’s Status in Society’. Oxford Sociology Working Papers 2009-05.

How well do correspondence tests measure discrimination?

Correspondence tests are a useful field experiement to measure discrimination in the formal labour market. These correspondence tests are also known as CV experiements: Researchers send two equivalent applications to an employer, differening only in the quantity of interest — gender and ethnicity are common. If only the majority or male candidate is invited for a job interview, we probably have a case of discrimination. Once we aggreate across many employers, we’re pretty confident to have captured discrimination.

Most studies stop there, declining any offer to reduce the burden on employers. The hiring process, however, does not end there. Lincoln Quillian and his team have now compiled a list of studies that went further. They find that the first stage of screening is far from the end of discrimination, and the job interview can increase overall discrimination substantially. Correspondece tests focusing on the first stage will capture only some of the discrimination. Interestingly the discrimination at the job interview stage appears unrelated to discrimination at the first screening of applications.

Quillian, L., Lee, J., & Oliver, M. (2018). Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments Shows Significantly More Racial Discrimination in Job Offers than in Callbacks. Northwestern Workin Paper Series, 18(28). Retrieved from

Zschirnt, E., & Ruedin, D. (2016). Ethnic discrimination in hiring decisions: A meta-analysis of correspondence tests 1990–2015. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(7), 1115–1134.

Image: CC-by Richard Eriksson.

Limits of Descriptive Representation

There are many benefits of including minorities of power in decision-making — so-called descriptive representation. This is the case for women who remain numerically under-represented in legislatures around the world, but also ethnic minority groups, and other minorities.

There are, however, practical limitations to including different groups and subgroups in legislatures. Goodin (2004) highlights that there is a tension between including members from different groups and subgroups on the one hand, and the practical ability to debate in the legislature – thus rob them of the possibility of substantively represent their particular subgroup. Goodin highlights that legislatures and governments need not include all groups and subgroups in society to represent the fact of diversity. While this observation highlights why it is impossible to include every subgroup all the time, it should not distract from the need of including ethnic and regional minorities in processes of decision-making, and certainly not be seen as a licence to exclude large groups of society.

It might be helpful to take a longer-term perspective here: rather than focusing on the absence of particular (small) groups in society in any given legislature, focus on persistent exclusion over several legislatures. And bear in mind that representatives act on behalf of groups not directly included in decision-making — so we should also focus on the representation of interests (though this is much harder to do than simply counting, of course).

Goodin, R. 2004. «Representing Diversity». British Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 453–68.
Ruedin, Didier. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.

Image: CC-by-nc by Guilherme Sales

Choosing Unauthorized Migration

Our article on the choice of unauthorized migration (as opposed to authorized migration) is now available at International Migration. We benefit from data on return migrants in Albania to capture who is more likely to choose unauthorized migration — illegal or undocumented immigration are other common terms. We find that young men are particularly prone to unauthorized migration: we interpret this as a reflection of risk-taking behaviour. We also find that those who do not have social responsibilities (children, partner) are more likely to choose unauthorized migration.

Ruedin, Didier, and Majlinda Nesturi. 2018. ‘Choosing to Migrate Illegally: Evidence from Return Migrants’. International Migration 56 (4): 235–49.

Why PR systems might be good for women

Scholars often claim that having a proportional representation (PR) system leads to a better inclusion of women and other minorities of power in national legislatures. Typically, we refer to the larger districts found in PR systems (e.g. Lijphart 1994, Rule and Zimmerman 1994, Katz 1997). Why do we find an association between district magnitude (the size of the electoral districts) and including more women in the legislature?

At a superficial level, we know that more candidates are picked in larger districts. This increases the likelihood that one of the women among the candidates is elected. To understand this increased probability we need to make an assumption — something rarely spelled out: We need to assume that there are only a few women standing — which is quite reasonable in most contexts. We also need to assume that women are less likely to be at the top of the ballot — which is the same as assuming that men are more likely to be at the top of the ballot.

Here are three situations to illustrate this. In situation 1, men are more likely at the top than women. Stating the obvious, this means that the men are more likely to be elected. We can imagine majoritarian systems as districts where (by definition) only the candidate at the top is picked (and then only of one of the parties). In this sense, there is nothing inherently beneficial in proportional representation as a system, or the underlying larger district magnitude: the system interacts with the placement of candidates.

In situation 2, we have a larger district, thus a larger number of candidates are elected. In the graphic, this means we reach further down the list. We have the same ballots where men are more likely at the top, but by reaching further down a woman is elected.

In situation 3, we have the same district magnitude as in situation 2 (4 candidates are elected), but there is now a third party. In terms of picking women, this is equivalent to having smaller districts, because we no longer reach as far down the lists.

With these three situations, we can also understand the concept of party magnitude introduced by Matland (1993). He argued that causally speaking, party magnitude is closer to the inclusion of women in legislatures than the district magnitude. We can calculate the party magnitude by dividing the district magnitude by the number of parties in the districts. With this, Matland implicitly acknowledged situation 3 here, and made the same fundamental assumptions outlined above: Men are more likely to take the top spot of party lists than women are. The concept of party magnitude combines the two effects of (a) reaching further down the lists when the district magnitude is large, and (b) not reaching as far down the lists when many parties are competing.

Once we have understood these two mechanisms, it is clear why the effects of party magnitude are temporarily limited — assuming a general trend towards including more women in legislatures. Matland acknowledges this limitation, but does not spell out why it exists. When few women are included on the ballots, the effect of party magnitude is limited. In this case, the likelihood of electing a woman is low, irrespective of the number of parties or the district magnitude. As more women are included, we can observe a stronger association with party magnitude. This is because of the two mechanisms: (a) more women are elected where the districts are larger, and (b) more women are elected where the number of parties is smaller. However, if women are as common as candidates as men and women are equally likely to appear at the top of the ballot, the association is low. In this case, the likelihood of electing a woman approaches 50%.

PR systems might be good for women not because of an inherent advantage, but because the larger district magnitude (which is inherent in the system) combined with candidate selection and candidate placement can increase the probability of electing women into legislatures. Put differently, just like in majoritarian systems, candidate selection and candidate placement are driving the association. Beyond specifying the mechanism, this exercise also highlights that political parties and party elites play such an important role in making sure women get into electable positions.

The literature sometimes insists on closed PR lists. This is only relevant inasmuch as the parties and party elite include more women on the ballot than the population would support or — and that’s possibly quite important — with a population that does not care enough about gender to make it a priority in elections (i.e. gender is not sufficiently salient). If we imagine a society with conservative party elites and a progressive electorate (or where the party elite assumes the population to be more conservative as they are), closed PR lists would be detrimental.

Why do we care? Having a PR system in itself is a poor explanation for changes in the inclusion of women in legislatures as we observe them across the world. By focusing on the role of political parties and the political elite may be more fruitful in understanding changes. With this, we should also research why some countries have PR systems in the first place — it might be a reflection of a more inclusive culture or tradition, something which might still be reflected in present day political behaviour, but difficult to disentangle empirically.

Katz, R. 1997. ‘Representational Roles’. European Journal of Political Research 32: 211–26.
Lijphart, A. 1994. Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945–1990. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Matland, R. 1993. ‘Institutional Variables Affecting Female Representation in National Legislatures: The Case of Norway’. Journal of Politics 55: 737–55.
Ruedin, Didier. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.
Rule, W., and J. Zimmerman, eds. 1994. Electoral Systems in Comparative Perspective: Their Impact on Women and Minorities. Westport: Greenwood Press.