Current theoretical research and information
I will adopt a linear model for this research design. It will take the form of a progression of linear steps that are simple to follow. The first of these steps is to define the theory I will be investigating and develop my hypothesis. Introduction The exclusion of women from politics, in particular political office, can be charted back to as early as 350BC when Aristotle, in his ‘Politics’ treatise, classed women, children and slaves as external to his definition of a citizen. Despite the legacy of the suffragette movement of the early 20th century, and the contemporary claims of sexual equality, politics remains, essentially, a political domain.
From initial observations of party lists and parliamentary data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, it transpired that, despite obviously making up 50% of any population, women’s actual representation in parliaments fell to as low as 5% (Appendix 1). Although there are clearly some ideological explanations for this, such as a society’s attitude to women, or more practical reasons, for example the candidate nomination process of a party, I was interested in ascertaining whether any more widespread conclusions could be made if the social and economic status of the country and of the women in that country were investigated.
It was possible to observe from the preliminary findings that the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark) possessed the most representative of parliaments, with percentages at 35+. From a second year course taken on the Modern Europe Welfare State, I was aware of the distinct nature of Nordic welfare provisions and attitudes; Highly advanced level of gender-equality; the labour market characterised by high level of female employment, wage equality and provisions for working mothers (Kuhnle 1998)
It is the inclusion of women in the labour market that prompted the question as to whether social (ie – welfare, education) and economic (ie – wage equality, employment rates) factors do have a significant effect on levels of women seats in parliaments. Research Question: Do socio-economic factors affect the levels of women seats in parliaments of the OECD countries? If so, to what extent? In order to answer this question accurately, it is necessary first to examine the existing literature and research.
In order to identity the specific fields within the broad genre of socio-economic trends that affect the percentage of women in parliament, it is necessary to review current theoretical research and information. It is clear from preliminary review that the most recent literature focuses on discrimination towards women within the party system itself, rather than national factors that affect the socio-economic status of women.
The literature suggests, however, that these structural issues and obstacles remain important. Reynolds (1999), in his study on socio-economic development using the UN gender-related development index, found that the levels of women in parliament were affected by socio-economic factors across the globe. Therefore, a quantitative update on the current socio-economic position of women within their countries is needed and will significantly contribute to the body of work on women in politics.
Supply-side v. Demand-side explanations The main body of literature on this subject can be classified into two competing explanations; supply-side and demand-side. The former refers to the failure of women to come forward as political candidates in sufficient numbers due to challenges presented to them by the country’s aggregate level of social, economic and political development. Demand-side explanations take a more pragmatic approach and allocate the blame with the political parties themselves and the masculine culture that obstructs the pathway into politics.
This organisational bias has been heavily researched, examples of which are Sophie Watson’s investigation into the “chap culture” of the senior levels of the UK Civil Service and Susan Halford’s studies of Local Government Women’s Committees. It is, however, the obstacles presented by social and economic factors, which fall into the supply-side category, that appear to require an updated analysis.
Economic capital The industrial revolution resulted in the exclusion of women from power and, for Lovenduski (1996), among others, the stunted economic position of women and their employment and wage status is a highly significant factor in this debate. ‘Where men and women share in the same domain, all kinds of power and authority tend to be shared more equally. Certainly this is the lesson of European history – before the public domain was separated from the private – women exercised power.’ (Rosaldo & Lamphere 1974)
However, the economic survival of the family is not guaranteed by the participation of the male in the labour force. Women have long contributed to income of the family that is not technically regarded as ‘economic participation’. Moreover, the UK Equal Opportunities Commission has published findings, as recent as 2005, that show women receiving a lower wage than men for the same job, approximately 18% less. It therefore appears that data on the economic position of women would contribute to a greater understanding of female under-representation.
The social construction of gender has resulted in specific industries being dominated by either males or females. For example, the service industry is predominantly female whilst ‘political elites tend to be dominated by representatives from a small number of occupational groups, particularly professionals’ (Norris 1987: 124). Also factored into this topic is the ‘double burden’ that women are forced to contend with, sustaining employment whilst usually being the primary carer for the family. It is therefore argued that ‘the double shift of employment and domestic responsibilities which women undertake makes the idea of a triple shift unthinkable’ (Allwood & Wadia 2000: 143).
Additionally, comparative studies of established democratic states have stressed the importance of the female group in professional, administrative and managerial occupations that commonly lead to political careers (Rule 1987). An investigation into the characteristics of MP’s in the UK House of Commons found that British politicians were predominantly recruited from the professions. Therefore, any data on the percentage of women within certain sectors of the labour market would contribute to this study.
Education A higher level of education is correlated with higher levels of political participation, knowledge of, and interest in politics; ‘education leads to greater participation for many reasons. It is argued that the more educated are more likely to follow current affairs in the media, to acquire more information about government, to feel confident about discussing political issues and to feel capable of influencing government.’ (Norris 1987: 121) Also, Researchers have shown that women need to have more experience and educational credentials than their male counterparts, especially the younger women (Dubeck 1976). Comparison of educational opportunities for women within democracies may show some correlation between representation and education.
Family The family structure and the ‘legislative constructions of motherhood’ (Millns 1995) are cited as restricting access for women to political activism. The Fawcett Society support and diversify this view by the development of the ‘4 C’s’ model; culture, childcare, cash and confidence. They found that women were far more likely to be responsible for the care of children, the elderly and the sick, hence restricting their opportunities to participate in a culture that required persistence, flexibility and a stable supporting income. Statistics that charted the birth rate, the fertility rate and the childcare facilities of a state would help to substantiate this claim across a wider sample.