Uncovering the Origins of the Gender Gap in Political Ambition

48 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2013

See all articles by Richard L. Fox

Richard L. Fox

Loyola Marymount University

Jennifer L. Lawless

American University

Date Written: 2013


Based on survey responses from a national random sample of nearly 4,000 high school (ages 13 to 17) and college (ages 18 to 25) students, we uncover a dramatic gender gap in political ambition. This finding serves as striking evidence that the gap is present well before women and men enter the professions from which most candidates emerge. We then use political socialization – which we gauge through a myriad of socializing agents and early life experiences – as a lens through which to explain the individual-level differences we uncover. Our analysis reveals that parental encouragement, politicized educational and peer experiences, participation in competitive activities, and a sense of self-confidence propel interest in running for office. But on each of these dimensions, women, particularly once they are in college, are at a disadvantage. By identifying when and why gender differences in interest in running for office materialize, we uncover the origins of the gender gap in political ambition, which until now had been elusive. Taken together, our results cast a cloud over prospects for gender parity in U.S. political institutions, and suggest that concerns about substantive and symbolic representation will likely remain serious for generations to come.

Keywords: political ambition, gender gap, women and politics

Suggested Citation

Fox, Richard L. and Lawless, Jennifer L., Uncovering the Origins of the Gender Gap in Political Ambition (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2300724

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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