Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Political Science


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Matthew J Gabel


In recent years, increasing women's participation in electoral politics has become a priority for a number of activists, politicians, and international governing organizations. This focus can largely be attributed to the belief that doing so provides normative benefits for women through increased policy representation. Despite the prevalence of this assumption, research connecting women's numeric and policy representation generates mixed results. At the same time, this work often fails to adequately theorize the link between the presence of female legislators and attention to women on the political agenda. Inspired by these policy debates, this dissertation asks when women's policy representation emerges in Western European countries and whether the presence of female politicians explains this phenomenon.

Beginning with the frequently espoused hypothesis of a direct relationship between women's numeric and policy representation, the theoretical framework underpinning the project outlines three more nuanced connections between the two forms of representation. First, the intervening relationship argues that the link between women's presence and policy representation is not direct, but instead occurs through women's increased access to political leadership positions. Second, the vote-seeking relationship posits that in order to explain women's representation, it is necessary to account for parties' desire to appeal to female voters. Finally, the policy-stability relationship suggests that attention to women on the policy agenda may reflect parties' stable attitudes towards women's representation.

Following the introductory chapter, this theoretical framework linking women's numeric and policy representation is developed and tested in five empirical studies. To consider how these hypotheses might apply to parties' policy agendas, the second chapter presents qualitative case studies of the three major British parties. Drawing on these insights, the third chapter uses an original dataset measuring attention to women on the electoral manifestos of 52 parties to test the competing hypotheses. The fourth chapter builds on this work, assessing how variation in parties' internal organizations might influence which parties are explained by each of the four theories.

The final two empirical chapters shift the level of analysis from political parties to legislatures and governments. Mirroring the previous study, in the fifth chapter I return to the UK in order to assess the role of female MPs in influencing policy in the House of Commons. To test the theories developed in this analysis, in the sixth chapter I apply the direct, intervening, vote-seeking, and policy-stability hypotheses to the expansion of parental leave provisions by 136 governments from across 15 countries over a 20 year period.

Taken together, these results demonstrate that the relationship between women's numeric and policy representation is more complicated than frequently assumed. In order to understand the emergence of policy for women in general---and the link between female legislators and policy representation in particular---it is necessary to consider which actors control women's: numeric and policy) representation and what factors motivate their behavior. In essence, this dissertation shows that it is not sufficient to simply theorize and test a direct relationship between women's presence and attention to women on the policy agenda.


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