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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How More Women in Congress Could Change Policies

At The Monkey Cage, Amanda Clayton and Pär Zetterberg explore the ramifications of an expected “pink wave” in the midterms. Not pink in the sense of the blue-red spectrum (Democrat-Republican) , but in “the record number of women who have entered midterm congressional races.” If recent patterns hold, most of the 2018 women candidates will be Democrats, and if generic polling averages stay on course, there should be an increase in the percentage of congress members who are women.

For those who wonder what more women in congress might mean in terms of policy changes, Clayton and Zetterberg analyzed the experience of nations which have implemented “electoral gender quotas that require a certain minimum proportion of women in political institutions. Most countries in the world have adopted electoral gender quotas, with the majority doing so in the past 25 years…To see whether female representatives change government spending, we looked at annual government budget data that the World Bank collected from 139 countries from 1995 to 2012 in three categories: public health, education and the military.” Among their findings:

Countries whose quotas increase women’s representation by more than 10 percentage points see the most dramatic increases in health spending — jumping, on average, from 10.3 percent of total government expenditures in the budget years before quotas to 13.1 percent in the budget years afterward. That increase is more than a full percentage point higher than in countries that did not implement quotas during comparable periods.

Costa Rica, for example, implemented a gender quota in 2002 — and saw female representation jump from 19 percent to 35 percent of parliament. Before that jump, from 1995 to 2002, Costa Rica was spending 22.7 percent of its budget on public health on average every year. In the decade following the quota, health spending increased, on average, to 25.4 percent each year. That’s about $120 million more in government health funding each year.

We also examined two other budget categories: education and military spending. We see that military spending went down after quota adoption, changes that are relatively minor when measured as a percentage of total expenditures. But when we measure military spending relative to health spending, we see that ratio of health to military spending increases significantly after quotas are adopted, particularly in countries where quotas dramatically increased female representation.

However, add the authors, “We see no changes in education spending after countries adopt gender quotas.” In conclusion, they write that “The record number of women expected to enter Congress after November’s election may not bring the leaps in representation that often come with quota policies. But if other countries are any indication, they may bring with them a new set of government priorities.”

For the many millions of Americans struggling with health security issues, more women in congress could bring welcome change, and for Democrats, a stronger appeal to working families.

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