Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2015

Path-Breakers? Women’s Electoral Success and Future Political Participation

by Sonia Bhalotra, Irma Clots-Figueras and Lakshmi Iyer


This paper investigates whether the event of a woman winning office in a competitive election encourages women’s future participation in politics, using constituency level data for elections to India’s state assemblies and a regression discontinuity design. On average, we find that female incumbents are more likely than male incumbents to re-contest but that there is a decline in the entry of new women candidates. We find evidence of demand-side explanations for this decline: there are striking differences across states by indicators of entrenched gender prejudice, with more prejudiced states showing a significant decline in the share of new women candidates after a woman wins, predominantly from parties led by men, and a significant decline in women’s winning chances. In contrast, in the less prejudiced states, there is no decline in new women candidates, and a significant increase in the vote share and winning chances of women. The evidence is consistent with backlash driven by voter and party preferences in the more gender prejudiced states. We find similar evidence of backlash following (mostly male) Muslim candidates winning, and argue that this bolsters the evidence of institutionalized demand-side barriers to entry and undermines supply-side gender-specific preferences and constraints. In addition, we find no significant differences in the candidacy response after a major quota-led expansion in the share of women in lower tiers of government, which makes it unlikely that the results are explained by a shortage of suitable women.

Keywords: Prejudice and Bias; Political Elections; Gender Characteristics; Public Administration Industry; India;


Bhalotra, Sonia, Irma Clots-Figueras, and Lakshmi Iyer. "Path-Breakers? Women’s Electoral Success and Future Political Participation." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-035, November 2013. (Revised March 2015.)