The United States has never had a female president and right now, women hold only 20 percent of the seats in Congress. Now, a new study suggests that this sort of gender inequality creates a political environment ripe for corruption.
The study, which was published in April, reveals that in countries with more women in political office, corruption is significantly lower.
Let's be clear: this does not mean that women are more trustworthy or less likely to take a bribe than men. It also doesn't mean that they make better politicians.
Instead, it suggests that women are filling a gap in policy-making that men have historically overlooked. In particular, the study found that women tend to focus their politics more on women, children and family.
"Women policymakers are able to have an impact on corruption because they choose different policies from men," said co-author Sudipta Sarangi, a professor at at Virginia Tech and the head of the university's Department of Economics.
"An extensive body of prior research shows women politicians choose policies that are more closely related to the welfare of women, children, and family."
The study randomly selected and examined more than 125 countries from nearly every continent, including developing nations and major democracies like the US.
The findings reveal that political bribery was significantly lower in regions with more women leaders. This was true at both national and local levels of politics, however, it was especially true at local levels in Europe.
Even more interesting, the study found no evidence to suggest that the longer women are in politics, the more corrupt they become.
To figure out whether this trend extends to other professions, the researchers looked at labor forces, clerical positions and, of course, the corporate world. The negative correlation between women and corruption was found to be unique to politics.
"The study finds that women's presence in these occupations is not significantly associated with corruption, suggesting that it is the policymaking role through which women are able to have an impact on corruption," Sarangi said.
In other words, only when women are given the opportunity to create policy change within their communities does corruption appear to decrease. In fact, the authors argue that one of the reasons more women are running for office is because they are frustrated by the current levels of corruption in politics.
"This research underscores the importance of women's empowerment, their presence in leadership roles and their representation in government," said Sarangi.
"This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries, including the United States."
The study comes at a particularly important time. Women around the world are stepping up and running for political office in numbers never seen before.
In the US, some 78 women are running for Congress or state governor in 2018. Emily's List, a group dedicated to electing more women, said it has heard from more than 36,000 women who want to run for office in 2018.
This is exactly the sort of change that the researchers suggest we need.
"Previous research has established that a greater presence of women in government is associated with better education and health outcomes," Sarangi said.
"It is well-known that corruption is bad for economic growth and well-being of people."
Maybe in 2019 things will be a little less corrupt.
The study has been published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
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