Research Report: Girls Just Wanna Not Run
American University, March 2013, By Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox
Overview: While this incredible research focuses on young women (ages 18-25), the data is still eye-opening. This research dives into the five factors that contribute to the gender gap in political ambition. It’s a good reminder for why it’s important to encourage girls from a young age.
Full report available: Girls Just Wanna Not Run – American University
Studies of women and men who are well-situated to run for office uncover a persistent gender gap in political ambition. Among “potential candidates” – lawyers, business leaders, educators, and political activists – women are less likely than men to express interest in a political career. Given the emergence over the past ten years of high-profile women in politics, such as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann, though, the landscape of U.S. politics looks to be changing. Perhaps young women are now just as motivated as young men to enter the electoral arena. Maybe young women envision future candidacies at similar rates as their male counterparts. Until now, no research has provided an analysis – let alone an in-depth investigation – of these topics.
This report fills that void. Based on the results of a new survey of more than 2,100 college students between the ages of 18 and 25, we offer the first assessment of political ambition early in life. And our results are troubling. Young women are less likely than young men ever to have considered running for office, to express interest in a candidacy at some point in the future, or to consider elective office a desirable profession. Moreover, the size of the gender gap in political ambition we uncover among 18 – 25 year olds is comparable to the size of the gap we previously uncovered in studies of potential candidates already working in the feeder professions to politics. Our data suggest, therefore, that the gender gap in ambition is already well in place by the time women and men enter their first careers.
Why? We identify five factors that contribute to the gender gap in political ambition among college students:
- Young men are more likely than young women to be socialized by their parents to think about politics as a career path.
- From their school experiences to their peer associations to their media habits, young women tend to be exposed to less political information and discussion than do young men.
- Young men are more likely than young women to have played organized sports and care about winning.
- Young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office – from anyone.
- Young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for office, even once they are established in their careers.
Given this persistent gender gap in political ambition, we are a long way from a political reality in which young women and men are equally likely to aspire to seek and hold elective office in the future. Certainly, recruitment efforts by women’s organizations – nationally and on college campuses – can chip away at the gender imbalance in interest in running for office. Encouraging parents, family members, teachers, and coaches to urge young women to think about a political career can mitigate the gender gap in ambition, too. And spurring young women to immerse themselves in competitive environments, such as organized sports, can go a long way in reinforcing the competitive spirit associated with interest in a future candidacy. But women’s under-representation in elective office is likely to extend well into the future. In short, this report documents how far from gender parity we remain and the deeply embedded nature of the obstacles we must still overcome to achieve it.