More than half of the population in the United States is female (and, let’s face it, this number probably doesn’t account for transgender women) but women are woefully underrepresented in public life. In fact, women account for less than 25 percent of elected leaders at all levels of office—despite research that shows that when they do run, they win at the same rates as men in comparable races. A new study finds that even though Trump’s election has mobilized more women than ever before to consider running for office, women are still significantly less likely to run than men. So what’s stopping them?
Two keys to cultivating girls’ interest in running for office later in life are parental encouragement and sports. Political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox have found that college students who played varsity or junior varsity sports were much more likely to have considered running than
who did not. Women who played sports were about 25 percent more likely to exhibit political aspirations.
An extensive study conducted by Politico, American and Loyola Marymount Universities looked at a number of factors that served to discourage women from running for public office over the course of their lives, spanning from educational experiences and throughout their careers. It found that one key factor was that encouragement begins at an early age. In high school, boys and girls demonstrate an equal interest in politics and are both likely to participate in student government. But as they progress into higher education, while both are likely to be encouraged to run for student government, college-aged men are more likely to consider a run for political office in the future and to have family and friends encourage the latter.
In college, men’s political ambition grows, while women’s fades. While only a third of high school girls doubt they’d ever be qualified to run, half of college women have the same doubts.
Self-doubt shadows women’s aspirations much more often than men’s, according to Lawless and Fox. College-age men who didn’t think they’d ever be qualified to run for office were still 50 percent more likely than women with the same doubts to consider running anyway.