A Difficulty in the Concept of Affirmative Action: Evidence from Females in Legislatures
47 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2009 Last revised: 13 Feb 2018
Date Written: May 16, 2010
History’s societies vary on a number of dimensions, but appear more homogenous in distributing socioeconomic status across sexes. This appearance prompts the question of whether forces that are robust to laws and regulations might contribute to the persistence of sex-differences in hierarchical attainment. Given this motivation, we empirically evaluate Suzanne Scotchmer’s (2008) model of sex differences in risk aversion where (1) winner-take-all games (e.g., promotions in hierarchies) favor inherently risk-taking males, but (2) successful females maintain greater skill on average and (3) see this skill-advantage depreciate with repeated play. This model formally identifies an internal inconsistency in affirmative action law, an inconsistency for which we find empirical support in how the sex composition of national legislatures differs across electoral mechanisms (i.e., winner-take-all chambers employ a significantly greater proportion of males) and how re-election prospects for US Representatives differ by sex (i.e., females enjoy significantly longer durations, but only when evaluated early in their incumbencies). These results cannot easily be dismissed as statistical artifacts, and alternative models can (at best) rationalize our cross-sectional or time series results, but not both.
Keywords: Winner-take-all games, endogenous preference formation, risk aversion, electoral rules, female representation in legislatures, affirmative action, corporate law
JEL Classification: B52, D72, J16, J71, J78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation