The Conditional Effects of Female Descriptive Representation: A Study of Policy Influence in State Legislatures, 1983-2002
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Many scholars believe in order to have democratic legitimacy, females should be represented in governing bodies at all levels. Significant literature on female descriptive representation in the U.S. for women’s policy responsiveness confirms the importance between the percentage of females in the legislature and public policy that represents women’s interests. At the same time, there is research suggesting female representatives do not always represent women’s interests. This study examined female descriptive representation and incorporation and its effect on substantive representation of female group salient issues and answered the following research question: Does an increase in female descriptive representation, institutional mechanisms of influence, or other political conditional factors lead to better substantive representation of female group salient issues? This research project replicated Robert Preuhs’ 2006 work by studying the conditional effects of female descriptive representation in the state legislature from 1983-2002. The study is important because it turns to state level data and accounts for all mechanisms of influence, as well as conditional effects of a liberal governing coalition, to determine whether female descriptive representation exerts policy influence. Five theoretical models were presented and tested in this work: The Presence Model, the Simple Incorporation Model, the Specific Institutional Incorporation Model, The Broad Institutional Incorporation Model, and The Party as a Substantive Representative Model. The dependent variables selected were per pupil educational expenditures, percentage of children without health insurance, welfare benefits, and percentage of child support collected. An OLS model with a lagged dependent variable and panel correlated standard errors was used to estimate the coefficients for each dependent variable. Female descriptive representation and incorporation did have some influence on substantive representation with welfare benefits and percentage of child support collected. The female influence is important and increasing the number of females in the legislature will result in more policy and benefits for issues important to women in society. However, examining the issues in a different way or with different dependent variables may provide better results indicating the importance of female descriptive representation on substantive representation of female group salient issues.
Barnes, Mary Elizabeth (2011). The Conditional Effects of Female Descriptive Representation: A Study of Policy Influence in State Legislatures, 1983-2002. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from