UCI News

US female legislators need more powerful committee roles to truly advance gender equality, UCI study finds

In a comparative study spanning 40 years of legislative terms in the U.S., Germany and Sweden, Catherine Bolzendahl, associate professor of sociology at UCI, demonstrates the importance of increasing not just the number of women elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, but also the number of them in committee leadership roles to seriously advance gender equality in political institutions and the policies they create.

October 8, 2014

cbprofileIn a comparative study spanning 40 years of legislative terms in the U.S., Germany and Sweden, Catherine Bolzendahl, associate professor of sociology at UCI, demonstrates the importance of increasing not just the number of women elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, but also the number of them in committee leadership roles to seriously advance gender equality in political institutions and the policies they create. “Given the same issue, women and men may look at it in different ways,” she said. “The advantage to electing women is that we [get] a diversity of perspectives regardless of issue area.” Yet in her study, recently published by Gender & Society, Bolzendahl found that while female legislators in other countries gain traction in social issue committees, there is no such pipeline in the U.S. Here, women rarely chair any committees, much less important and prestigious ones. This means that female legislators in the U.S. have less power in terms of agenda setting and voicing their opinions – both in comparison to their male colleagues and in comparison to female legislators in other industrialized nations. The findings are important in the context of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, in which 15 women are running for seats in the Senate and another 162 are seeking House seats.