Barefoot and Pregnant, or Ready to Be President? Gender, Family Roles, and Political Ambition in the 21st Century

48 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 30 Sep 2014

See all articles by Richard L. Fox

Richard L. Fox

Loyola Marymount University

Jennifer L. Lawless

American University

Date Written: 2011


Based on data from the 2011 Citizen Political Ambition Study – a new, national survey of nearly 4,000 “potential candidates” for all levels of office – we provide the first thorough analysis of the manner in which traditional family arrangements affect the initial decision to run for office. Despite a substantial gender gap in political ambition, and the persistence of traditional family structures and gender roles among potential candidates, our findings culminate to provide clear evidence that traditional family dynamics do not account for the gender gap in potential candidates’ interest in running for office. Neither marital and parental status, nor the division of labor pertaining to household tasks and childcare, predict interest in pursuing elective office, taking steps typically associated with a campaign, or actually declaring a candidacy. Further, family arrangements do not influence patterns of political recruitment or potential candidates’ self-evaluations of their qualifications to run for office, which serve as two leading predictors of political ambition. Our findings, which refute the conventional wisdom, suggest that over the course of the past thirty years, women have emerged as trail blazers and path breakers whose professional success was contingent on learning how to balance high-level careers with traditional gender roles. This is not to downplay the fact that the gender gap in political ambition remains substantial and static. But it is to suggest that family arrangements are not a contributing factor.

Keywords: women and politics, political ambition, family roles, candidate emergence, potential candidates

Suggested Citation

Fox, Richard L. and Lawless, Jennifer L., Barefoot and Pregnant, or Ready to Be President? Gender, Family Roles, and Political Ambition in the 21st Century (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Richard L. Fox

Loyola Marymount University ( email )

7900 Loyola Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045
United States

Jennifer L. Lawless (Contact Author)

American University ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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