More women in politics linked to significant health improvements

The largest improvements came where economic development is low.
women's march 747x560
Women's march

A new study has found greater numbers of women elected to political office is associated with an increase in life expectancies of women and children.

The research, from experts at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Bocconi University, published in the journal Demography, found that countries where women comprise at least 30% of the legislature see a significant reduction in their mortality rates. The authors suggest that women’s parliamentary presence could improve efforts to advance social and political development.

The study assessed changes in the share of national political representatives who were women, and mortality rates in 155 countries between 1990 and 2014, using World Bank data.

The authors showed that when the presence of women in national legislatures reached the UN advocated  ‘critical mass’ of 30%, the mortality rates for mothers and children fell faster. The largest improvements in mortality were observed in countries with lower democracy and development.

The authors write that gains in political equality may help achieve multiple social and economic goals: “The value in encouraging efforts to increase the role of women in political leadership is clear, and such efforts could play a vital role in improving population health.”

They add that “further increases in women’s political status — although an end in itself — may have important synergistic effects that improve life chances across the globe.”

Wendy Sigle, Professor of Gender and Family Studies at the Department of Gender Studies at LSE, said: “Although we might expect that a critical mass of women in parliament would be better able to effect change in wealthy countries with strong democratic institutions, we saw the largest improvements in contexts where democratic institutions are not long-established or consolidated, and where economic development is low.”

Ross Macmillan, Professor of Sociology at Bocconi University “Greater gender equality in national legislatures may influence politics and polices in ways that promote human development, particularly in fledgling or fragile political-economic contexts, especially when historical traditions and conditions mean that trust and communication between the populace and their political representatives were poor or non-existent.” 

For more information

Gender and the Politics of Death: Female Representation, Political and Developmental Context, and Population Health in a Cross-National Panel by Ross Macmillan, Naila Shofia and Wendy Sigle was published in Demography on 20 August 2018.