The Potential Symbolic Value of Descriptive Representation: The Case of Female Representation

35 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 8 Sep 2009

Date Written: 2009


This paper seeks to analyze the relationship between the existence of women in political power and citizens’ evaluation of the quality of democracy in their country. Using mainly data from The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), Module 2 (2001 – 2006), it focuses on post–elections surveys of 29 countries all over the world.

It has two main objectives. The first is to present some mechanisms that might account for the relationship between the presence of women in key political positions and citizens’ evaluation of democracy and to do a preliminary analysis of how plausible these mechanisms are. The second objective is to check whether the feminization of different layers of political power is connected to satisfaction with democracy. In that sense, besides checking the impact of the percentage of female MPs (identified by Karp and Banducci 2008), it also considers the percentage of women in ministerial positions, and the presence of a female Prime Minister or President.

My findings confirm that in countries with more gender-balanced parliaments, citizens tend to feel happier about their democracy. Furthermore, they suggest that the same can be said regarding countries with a female President. The latter result is particularly strong among women.

Keywords: female political representation, satisfaction with democracy, gender gap

Suggested Citation

Espirito-Santo, Ana, The Potential Symbolic Value of Descriptive Representation: The Case of Female Representation (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Ana Espirito-Santo (Contact Author)

European University Institute (EUI) ( email )

Via dei Roccettini, 9
San Domenico di Fiesole
Firenze, 50014

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