Quotas and Gender Gaps in Political Participation among Established Industrial European Democracies: Distinguishing Within- and Across-Country Effects

Date01 September 2017
Published date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(3) 657 –672
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917710116
The adoption of gender quotas has been one of the major
changes to women’s representation in the last two
decades. It represents a “fast track” political measure that
aims at solving women’s historical exclusion from poli-
tics over a shorter period of time (Dahlerup and
Freidenvall 2005). Advocates of gender quotas argue
that, in addition to increasing women’s representation in
the legislature, quotas may signal the inclusion of women
in the political sphere, which should have an influence on
mass-level attitudes and behavior (Franceschet, Krook,
and Piscopo 2012). This paper proposes to further the
study of legislative gender quotas by investigating the
impact of quotas on gender gaps in political participation
in established European democracies and over time.
This paper uses cross-sectional longitudinal data,
which differ from previous quantitative studies on the
influence of legislative gender quotas on men’s and wom-
en’s levels of political involvement (Kittilson and
Schwindt-Bayer 2012; Zetterberg 2009).1 These latter
investigations stipulate that countries with gender quotas
should be associated with smaller gaps between women
and men in political involvement levels. They cannot,
however, assess whether the adoption of gender quotas is
linked with changes in behavior within countries. The
inclusion of longitudinal data along with cross-sectional
data allows for the investigation of two separate effects of
gender quotas—a within- and an across-country effect.
Using data from eighteen established European democra-
cies, I show that the adoption of gender quotas is associ-
ated with a reduction in gender gaps for some political
activities, but not all, within countries. However, I dem-
onstrate that when comparing countries with and without
legislative gender quotas, quota countries have larger
gender gaps in political participation. Thus, I argue that
the two effects must be distinguished.
This paper also indicates that the positive effect of
gender quotas within countries occurs only for certain
types of political activities favored by women such as
individual noninstitutional actions. For other political
activities, these results are not reproduced. I argue that
gender quotas may not be enough for women to
710116PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917710116Political Research QuarterlyBeauregard
1The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Katrine Beauregard, School of Politics and International Relations,
The Australian National University, Haydon-Allen Building #22,
Acton, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.
Email: katrine.beauregard@anu.edu.au
Quotas and Gender Gaps in Political
Participation among Established Industrial
European Democracies: Distinguishing
Within- and Across-Country Effects
Katrine Beauregard1
This paper proposes to investigate the influence of legislative quotas on gender differences in political participation by
analyzing the within- and across-country effects of quotas. Gender quotas can signal to women that their presence in
politics is welcome, leading to a subsequent increase in their involvement in political activities. This change in political
behavior should not be reproduced in men; thus, when gender quotas are present, the gap between men’s and
women’s participation narrows. Using the European Values Survey and data from eighteen European democracies, this
paper demonstrates that this indeed occurs for some political activities when gender gaps are compared before and
after the introduction of quotas within countries. This result, however, is not replicated for across-country analyses.
European countries without legislative gender quotas tend to have smaller gender gaps than countries with them. This
result is explained by referring to the context of the adoption of gender quotas.
political participation, gender quotas, established European democracies, gender gaps
658 Political Research Quarterly 70(3)
overcome their lower levels of socioeconomic resources
which are required for certain political activities such as
political discussion or involvement in a political party.
Women’s involvement in political activities demanding
lower levels of socioeconomic resources—signing a peti-
tion or joining a boycott—will benefit from the adoption
of legislative gender quotas. As explained below, gender
quotas may provide women with symbolic, descriptive,
and substantive representation which provides greater
incentives for women to become involved in the political
sphere. Hence, gender gaps for specific political activities
may be reduced with the adoption of gender quotas.
Quotas and Gender Gaps in Political
Two main categories of gender quotas exist in established
European democracies: legislative and voluntary party
quotas. First, legislative quotas are mandated by the con-
stitution of a country or its legislature and require political
parties to designate a certain percentage of female candi-
dates (Norris 2004). Penalties can be applied if political
parties do not respect the quota legislation. Second, party
quotas are voluntarily adopted by political parties and not
mandated by the state (Krook, Lovenduski, and Squires
2009). Under party legislation, the selection of candidates
standing for election has to take into account a gender bal-
ance, usually in the form of a certain percentage of women
candidates that needs to be met. Failure to respect the
internal party legislation can result in sanctions.
In some debates surrounding the adoption of gender
quotas, proponents argue that quotas can also affect citi-
zen behavior and attitudes (Zetterberg 2009). It is impor-
tant to note that when discussing gender quotas potential
to change citizen behavior, most authors focus on the leg-
islative type. They argue that this quota can lead to the
political advancement of women in all spheres, beyond
their presence in the legislature (Dahlerup and Freidenvall
2005); they can reshape attitudes and values about wom-
en’s role in politics (Kittilson 2005). It is believed that
quotas “could help to empower women citizens and break
their long-standing subordination in political life”
(Zetterberg 2009, 715). Gender quotas can send cues to
citizens about the appropriate place of both women and
men in the political process, thereby influencing levels of
political participation.
The literature identifies three mechanisms through
which quotas can influence gender gaps in political par-
ticipation. The first mechanism is symbolic representa-
tion, which refers to citizens’ feelings of being effectively
represented (Pitkin 1967). Gender quotas may send a sig-
nal to citizens, and especially women, that the political
sphere is open to women’s participation and that the
political process is fair and legitimate (Krook 2007). By
adopting a law mandating the presence of women on
electoral lists, the government stipulates to women that
they are not just subjects but also decision makers and
leaders (Zetterberg 2009). This signal likely makes
women feel better represented in the political process and
may give them a more positive attitude about politics
(Kittilson 2005), which in turn, may spur their levels of
participation. Men’s levels of political participation
should not be affected by gender quotas—at least not in
the same way—since gender quotas directly target wom-
en’s inclusion in the political process.
The second mechanism links gender quotas to
increases in women’s descriptive and substantive repre-
sentation, which in turn affects gender differences in
political participation (Schwindt-Bayer 2011; Zetterberg
2009). Substantive representation assesses whether repre-
sentatives are acting in the interest of citizens while
descriptive representation focuses on whether representa-
tives mirror citizens in terms of sociodemographic factors
(Pitkin 1967). The primary goal of gender quotas is to
increase the descriptive representation of women through
the number of women in the legislature. Studies have
found that some gender quotas are successful in reaching
this goal (Schwindt-Bayer 2009; Tripp and Kang 2008).
It has been found that a greater proportion of women leg-
islators is associated with greater consideration in the leg-
islative process to issues and policies that are favored by
women and with improving their evaluations of the polit-
ical process (Bratton 2005; Childs and Withey 2004;
Kathlene 1995; Saint-Germain 1989; Schwindt-Bayer
2006; Swers 2002; Taylor-Robinson and Heath 2003).
This greater substantive representation of women that
results from the adoption of gender quotas could provide
incentives—such as greater perceived legitimacy (Norris
and Franklin 1997) and confidence in representative
institutions (Schwindt-Bayer and Mishler 2005)—to
women in the electorate to be involved in political activi-
ties, leading to smaller gender differences. The argument
is that women will be more likely to engage in political
actions if they believe that the political system is respon-
sive to them, which is more likely to occur when they are
substantively represented.
The third mechanism through which gender quotas
could lead to smaller gender gaps in political participa-
tion is mobilization (Schwindt-Bayer 2011). According
to Schwindt-Bayer (2011, 7), quotas “give political par-
ties a tool to reach out to women in the electorate and
garner greater support.” In other words, gender quotas
give political parties an argument for convincing women
to support them. Gender quotas, moreover, create an
incentive for political parties to target women’s vote.
Quotas may make parties realize that women are an
“undertapped market” (Kittilson and Schwindt-Bayer
2012) that is often overlooked. By creating an incentive

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