Monday, September 8, 2008

Women in politics

A politician is supposed to represent others, the electorate, and not act selfishly. We know everyone will act selfishly in one way or the other, we are not angels. But there may be some ways to choose politicians that are more selfless than others. One interesting category of politicians in this respect are women.

It has been know for a long time that mothers and more generous to others than fathers. This is, for example, the reason why in many countries child benefits are paid to the mother. Also, women are more risk averse, as research reviewed by Catherine Eckel and Philip Grossman shows. Also, John Lott and Lawrence Kenny show that women's suffrage in the US has coincided with more liberal policies.

A particularly interesting experiment is the requirement in India that half (correction: one third) of village council seats be reserved for women (on top of slot for various castes), and half of council heads be women. Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo document that while council members follow the interests on their own gender (and caste), those headed by women tend to favor infrastructure improvements.

Why would women want to provide more public goods? Uri Gneezy, Kenneth Leonard and John List compare matrilineal and patriarchal societies, where they conducted the classic experiment designed by James Andreoni: experiment participants decide how much money to distribute between a private and a collective fund. In patriarchal societies, women share more than men. In matrilineal societies, the reverse happens. It appears thus the dominated gender is more generous.


VIlfredo said...

I am rather puzzled by the Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo piece. It claims women favor infrastructure over education. At least in Western countries, this cannot be true. I would be surprised to find India different in this regard.

John Lott said...

Thanks for the email. Possibly I am misreading this, but I guess I don't see how the fact that women politicians might behave differently says anything about whether politicians represent voters. Voters might elect women because they want those policy outcomes. It doesn't mean that voters aren't being closely represented.

Economic Logician said...

John, thie issue is that politicians are inherently selfish, like the rest of us. If you want them to represent us better, you need to find politicians that are more selfless. What I try to show is that women could do this. Of course, there are plenty of other dimensions that one needs to consider, but I find this one interesting.

It is a little akin to the inflation bias in central banking. To make sure you keep inflation low despite the inflation bias, you appoint someone who especially dislikes inflation.