When Do Family Ties Matter? The Duration of Female Suffrage and Women’s Path to High Political Office

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(3) 695 –709
© 2018 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918759438
What factors determine whether women are ultimately
successful in holding the highest office in their country?
Given the scarcity of female heads of state, one might
assume that women tend to have fundamentally different
levels of political experience or background traits than
men do. However, because female leaders are such a rare
occurrence, it is difficult to make inferences about the
background characteristics that distinguish female lead-
ers from males in terms of their qualifications for their
country’s highest office.
We argue that two different but related factors come into
play when considering women’s advancement to head of
state. First, although women and men have similar paths to
leadership in terms of their levels of education and career
trajectories, female leaders require significant resources,
connections, and networks to achieve political leadership—
more so than their male counterparts (Folke, Rickne, and
Smith 2017; Jalalzai 2013). Those resources most fre-
quently take the form of being part of political dynasties,
particularly when women are not present in politics more
broadly. However, family dynasties are less important the
longer that women have been active in political life more
generally. We argue that once female suffrage has been
institutionalized—that is, if voting rights have been in place
to an extent that female participation in politics is regarded
by citizens as commonplace—the importance of family ties
will decrease. That is, women leaders benefit from family
ties when women are scarce in political life generally, but as
their participation in politics becomes normalized, family
ties become less important.
We test our argument using a novel dataset that allows
us to compare the individual backgrounds of all male and
female leaders in the world from 1960 to 2010. Previous
studies have only been able to compare female leaders
with a limited selection of male leaders. Drawn from
extensive firsthand research on the biographies of leaders
around the globe, these original data allow us to broaden
the scope of previous studies, by comparing the accom-
plishments and background of female leaders with their
male counterparts around the globe, over five decades.
This paper makes a number of contributions. First, in
contrast to studies that compare female and male leaders
on a limited basis (such as comparing all female leaders
with their immediate male predecessors in the same
office, or in small-sized or contemporaneous samples),
759438PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918759438Political Research QuarterlyGray and Baturo
1Dublin City University, Ireland
2University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
Corresponding Author:
Julia Gray, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania,
208 S. 37th Street, Room 217, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215, USA.
Email: jcgray@sas.upenn.edu
When Do Family Ties Matter? The
Duration of Female Suffrage and
Women’s Path to High Political Office
Alexander Baturo1 and Julia Gray2
While the percentage of female heads of state in the world has increased to around 10 percent in the 2010s, a female
president or prime minister still remains an exception. Recent scholarship has proposed a number of explanations
behind this phenomenon, but there exist important gaps. The contribution of this paper is threefold. First, we use
new and comprehensive data to undertake a systematic examination of the differences in the personal, education,
and career backgrounds between female and male effective political leaders from 1960 to 2010. We find that female
leaders are as qualified as men. Second, because the phenomenon of female leadership is still a rare occurrence, we
argue that this fact must be accounted for in empirical modeling. Third, we show that many female leaders tend to
acquire the necessary resources, support, and name recognition through political dynasties. To that end, women
leaders need to rely on family ties more than men do. However, the importance of such connections attenuates when
female suffrage has been in place for longer, and citizens are more open to women in politics.
gender and politics, political leaders, selection into office, representation

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