More Women In Parliament Reduces Corruption, Study Finds
Possibly because female politicians tend to prioritize people’s well-being.
Don’t let Jayalalitha or Mayawati fool you: A greater representation of women in parliament leads to a drop in corruption, finds a new study by researchers Chandan Jha, of Le Moyne College, and Sudipta Sarangi, of Virginia Tech.
Jha and Sarangi’s research isn’t the first to link less corrupt governance with more women in parliament, but it is the first to prove women’s representation in politics is the cause of greater transparency and better practices. Their cross-country analysis of more than 125 countries used a statistical method to account for confounding influences and conclude higher numbers of female parliamentarians are the cause of reduced corruption.
The duo also found women’s representation in local politics curbs corruption, too — for example, the likelihood of having to bribe is lower in regions of Europe where women are more involved in local-level politics.
“This research underscores the importance of women empowerment, their presence in leadership roles and their representation in government,” said Sarangi, an economics professor. “This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries including the United States.”
India often points to its history of high-profile female political leaders as proof of its progress in this area, but it’s worth noting the report talks about the quantity of women in power, not the height of the position reached by individuals. The number of women in political power in India has been and is abysmal. At a national level, a mere 11.8% of Lok Sabha MPs are women, 11% of Rajya Sabha members, and 18.5% of cabinet members, as of last year. The Women’s Reservation Bill, which would reserve one-third of all Lok Sabha and state assembly seats for women, was introduced in 2008 and passed the Rajya Sabha in 2010. Eight years later, the Lok Sabha has yet to take it up. Without the bill, estimates suggest it will be another 50 years before women achieve equal representation in the national government.
Critics of the bill say it doesn’t address the root problems that inhibit women’s participation in governance, which is true. But it’s undoubtedly a faster route to equality (or one-third of it…) than changing patriarchal hearts and minds, one that has been proven effective in India and been championed by international bodies. Women’s representation in politics is better at the local level, thanks largely to the Constitutional quotas of 1994 that reserved 33% of seats for women and some states’ later expansion of those quotas to 50%.
The results speak for themselves. Not only are governments, big and small, less corrupt the more women are involved, they are also more effective. Examining data from 4,265 of India’s state assembly constituencies between 1992 and 2012, researchers from the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics (UNU-WIDER) estimates a 25% economic growth premium for constituencies with a female legislator and greater (completed) infrastructure development. Female legislators were also less likely to carry a criminal record and, you guessed it, be corrupt, especially in less developed states.
Women aren’t, of course, inherently purer or more honest; Jha and Sarangi examined women’s representation in the broad labor force, as well as other fields, such as clerical work or managerial positions, and found no relationship between the number of women and the degree of corruption.
But women’s effect on corruption in governance holds, even as they gain in social clout and, correspondingly, gain access to the back channels and know-how of corruption. Jha and Sarangi found the relationship between women’s representation in parliament and corruption is stronger for countries in which women enjoy more equality, suggesting that it’s through female legislators’ policymaking that minimizes corruption.
Jha and Sarangi’s study warns that these results do not necessarily mean that women are inherently less corrupt. In fact, their findings suggest otherwise. If women are indeed less corrupt, then there should be a significant negative correlation between all these measures of female participation and corruption.
Outside of India, previous research has established that a greater presence of women in government is associated with better education and health outcomes. Add that to greater economic development and less corruption, and the argument not to ensure not even equal representation, but one-third of seats for women in parliament, becomes hollow.
Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle's managing editor.