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.

Education and Attitudes — Not So Fast

It’s a very common finding that people with higher levels of formal education are less prejudiced — as captured by their answers in surveys. So common is this assumption that it has almost become an informal benchmark for studies on attitudes to immigrants and other minority groups. If you don’t find an association between levels of formal education and lower prejudice, some will doubt your data or analysis.

There are, however, reasons to doubt that this association is the end of the story. First of all, levels of formal education are not a well specified mechanism. In our IMR article, Marco Pecoraro and I write:

While an association between low levels of education and negative sentiments toward immigrants can be found across countries, the underlying mechanism remains poorly specified.

Most studies use education as a proxy of skills levels, which is a very narrow definition of human capital when we consider the possible competition between citizens and foreigners in the labour market. In our study, we addressed this by using skill levels:

Using these more sophisticated measures of exposure to market competition, we find no evidence that – once values and beliefs are accounted for – workers with low levels of education a priori have more negative attitudes toward foreigners than those with upper secondary education.

A simple reason may be that levels of formal education capture social desirability. An (2014) argues that the relationship between education and attitudes/prejudice is largely driven by social desirability, but others contest this (e.g. Ostapczuk et al. 2009).

There have long been reasons to think more carefully about the relationship between education and prejudice — beyond the lack of a clearly specified mechanism. For instance, Jackman (1978) showed that higher education is associated with being more tolerant on an abstract index, but not on an applied index. Studying support for minority rights in referendums and popular initiatives, Vatter et al. (2014) highlight that the ‘effect’ of education depends on the minority group considered. Similarly, Bansak et al. (2016) show that preferences for certain groups of asylum seekers are same across levels of education. A quite different challenge came from Weil (1985) who showed that the association is weaker or altogether absent in non-liberal countries — if we want to speak of an ‘effect’, it does not appear to be universal. That’s exactly what we have seen in recent years as prejudice and attitudes to minorities are increasingly studied outside Western Europe and North America.

For instance, Bahry (2016) did not find a clear association between levels of formal education and negative attitudes to foreigners in Russia (but Bessudov 2016 did). Diop et al. studied the situation in Qatar and found no association to speak of; Barceló 2016 reports no clear association in Asia. Gordon (2016) reports that higher levels of education mean being less stereotyped in South Africa, but that there is no difference in the opposition to refugees; while Gordon (2015) highlights that xenophobia crosses the class divide in South Africa. Kunovich (2004) finds weaker ‘effects’ of education in Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe, while Dennison & Talò (2017) find no direct ‘effect’ in France — right in Western Europe.

One interpretation of education affecting attitudes to foreigners is the liberalizing effect of education. Most studies use cross-sectional data, so they are in a poor situation to test this. Hello (2002) cast some doubt on this interpretation by showing that the ‘effect’ of education seems to vary across countries. More directly, however, Lancee & Sarrasin (2015) used panel data to follow individuals through education, and they find ‘no effect’ when only modelling within-subject variation: Attitudes change little through education.

So we’ve certainly not seen the end of the story yet.

References

An, Brian P. 2015. ‘The Role of Social Desirability Bias and Racial/Ethnic Composition on the Relation between Education and Attitude toward Immigration Restrictionism’. The Social Science Journal 52 (4): 459–67. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2014.09.005.

Bahry, Donna. 2016. ‘Opposition to Immigration, Economic Insecurity and Individual Values: Evidence from Russia’. Europe-Asia Studies 68 (5): 893–916. doi:10.1080/09668136.2016.1178710.

Bansak, Kirk, Jens Hainmueller, and Dominik Hangartner. 2016. ‘How Economic, Humanitarian, and Religious Concerns Shape European Attitudes toward Asylum Seekers’. Science 354 (6309): 217–22. doi:10.1126/science.aag2147.

Barceló, Joan. 2016. ‘Attitudes toward Immigrants and Immigration Policy in Asia and the Pacific: A Quantitative Assessment of Current Theoretical Models beyond Western Countries’. Asian Journal of Political Science 24 (1): 87–123. doi:10.1080/02185377.2015.1136228.

Bessudnov, Alexey. 2016. ‘Ethnic Hierarchy and Public Attitudes towards Immigrants in Russia’. European Sociological Review 32 (5): 567–80. doi:10.1093/esr/jcw002.

Dennison, James, and Teresa Talò. 2017. ‘Explaining Attitudes to Immigration in France’. Working Paper. http://cadmus.eui.eu//handle/1814/46245.

Diop, Abdoulaye, Yaojun Li, Majed Mohammmed H. A. Al-Ansari, and Kien T. Le. 2017. ‘Social Capital and Citizens’ Attitudes towards Migrant Workers’. Social Inclusion 5 (1): 66–79. doi:10.17645/si.v5i1.798.

Gordon, Steven Lawrence. 2015. ‘Xenophobia across the Class Divide: South African Attitudes towards Foreigners 2003–2012’. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 33 (4): 494–509. doi:10.1080/02589001.2015.1122870.

———. 2016. ‘Welcoming Refugees in the Rainbow Nation: Contemporary Attitudes towards Refugees in South Africa’. African Geographical Review 35 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1080/19376812.2014.933705.

Hello, Evelyn, Peer Scheepers, and Merove Gijsberts. 2002. ‘Education and Ethnic Prejudice in Europe: Explanations for Cross-National Variances in the Educational Effect on Ethnic Prejudice’. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 46 (1): 5–24.

Jackman, Mary R. 1978. ‘General and Applied Tolerance: Does Education Increase Commitment to Racial Integration?’ American Journal of Political Science 22 (2): 302–324.

Kunovich, Robert M. 2004. ‘Social Structural Position and Prejudice: An Exploration of Cross-National Differences in Regression Slopes’. Social Science Research 33 (1): 20–44. doi:10.1016/S0049-089X(03)00037-1.

Lancee, Bram, and Oriane Sarrasin. 2015. ‘Educated Preferences or Selection Effects? A Longitudinal Analysis of the Impact of Educational Attainment on Attitudes Towards Immigrants’. European Sociological Review, March, jcv008. doi:10.1093/esr/jcv008.

Ostapczuk, Martin, Jochen Musch, and Morten Moshagen. 2009. ‘A Randomized-Response Investigation of the Education Effect in Attitudes towards Foreigners’. European Journal of Social Psychology 39 (6): 920–931.

Pecoraro, Marco, and Didier Ruedin. 2016. ‘A Foreigner Who Does Not Steal My Job: The Role of Unemployment Risk and Values in Attitudes toward Equal Opportunities’. International Migration Review 50 (3): 628–66. doi:10.1111/imre.12162.

Vatter, Adrian, Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, and Deniz Danaci. 2014. ‘Who Supports Minority Rights in Popular Votes? Empirical Evidence from Switzerland’. Electoral Studies 36 (December): 1–14. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2014.06.008.

Weil, Frederick D. 1985. ‘The Variable Effects of Education on Liberal Attitudes: A Comparative- Historical Analysis of Anti-Semitism Using Public Opinion Survey Data’. American Sociological Review 50 (4): 458–74. doi:10.2307/2095433.

Image: CC-by-nc More Good Foundation https://flic.kr/p/8Q5K9r

No, nationality is not a mechanism

This post might serve as a reminder to myself and others doing research on immigrants and their descendent that nationality is not a mechanism. Put differently, if you discover that people with nationality A differ from people with nationality B in a given characteristic, you have not explained anything at all.

It feels rather obvious when put this way, but it’s usually harder when it comes to multiple regression models. So often we throw in a control variable like “foreign national” or “foreign born” without thinking why we do so, what alternative explanation we think we are capturing. Obviously, a person’s passport or place of birth is used as a shorthand or proxy of something else, but what exactly?

Let’s consider the commonly used variables of migration background or migration origin. Short of calling a particular section of society different in essence (which we probably don’t want to), there are a range of concepts we might be trying to capture, like the experience of (racial) discrimination, having a different skin colour, having a different religion, holding different values, having poor language skills, being of the working class, having additional cultural perspectives and experiences, transnational ties, or a combination of these.

Knowing what we’re after is essential for understanding. Sometimes it is necessary to use proxies like immigrant origin, but we need to specify the mechanism we’re trying to capture. Depending on the mechanism, who should be counted as of immigrant origin, for example, can be quite different, especially when it comes to children of immigrants, individuals of “mixed” background, and naturalized individuals. Having poor language skills, for example, is something most likely to affect (first generation) immigrants; but likely experience of racial discrimination is probably not disappearing just because it was my grandparents rather than me who came to this country.