Capitol Hill’s Heroines
THE SOURCE: “The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?” by Sarah F. Anzia and Christopher R. Berry, in American Journal of Political Science, July 2011.
Women may be underrepresented in Congress, but those who get elected to office are no shrinking violets. Research by political scientists Sarah F. Anzia of Stanford University and Christopher R. Berry of the University of Chicago shows that congresswomen are more effective on Capitol Hill than their male counterparts. Female legislators secure nine percent more federal discretionary spending for their districts than congressmen do—on average, a difference of $49 million per district annually. They also sponsor about three more bills per Congress than their male peers (the average per member is 18), and cosponsor roughly 26 more bills.
Would Congress be more effective if more women were elected? (They’ve held an average of just 17 percent of the seats in recent years.) It’s not likely, Anzia and Berry say. Congresswomen aren’t overachievers because women are intrinsically better legislators, the authors argue, but because the barriers to entry for women in congressional politics are so high that those who succeed simply have more talent and put in more effort than the average man who wins at the polls. If those barriers were to fall, so would the performance level of most female legislators.
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