Quotas and qualifications: the impact of gender quota laws on the qualifications of legislators in the Italian parliament

Ana Catalano Weeks, Lisa Baldez

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This article addresses concerns that candidates nominated because of gender quota laws will be less qualified for office. While questions of candidate quality have long been relevant to legislative behavior, quota laws requiring a certain percentage of candidates for national office to be women have generated renewed interest. Gender quotas are often perceived to reduce the scope of political competition. By putting gender identity center stage, they preclude the possibility that elections will be based on ‘ideas’ or ‘merit’ alone. Other electoral rules that restrict candidate selection, such as the centralization of candidate selection common in closed list PR systems, have been found to reduce the quality of candidates. Rules that open selection, such as primaries, result in higher quality candidates. We exploit the institutional design of Italy’s mixed electoral system in 1994, where quotas were applied only to the PR portion of the list, to compare the qualifications of men, women, and ‘quota women’. We estimate regressions on several measures of deputies’ qualifications for office and performance in office. We find that unlike other rules limiting candidate selection, quotas are not associated with lower quality on most measures of qualifications. In fact, quota women have more local government experience than other legislators and lower rates of absenteeism than their male counterparts. Contrary to critics, quota laws may have a positive impact on legislator quality. Once the quota law was rescinded, quota women were less likely to be re-elected than non-quota women or men, which suggests that discrimination – not qualification – limits women’s status as candidates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-144
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Political Science Review
Issue number01
Early online date9 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015


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