Women are more likely than men to blame structural factors for women's political under-representation: evidence from 27 countries

Peter Allen, David Cutts

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Over time, gender and politics research has made progress in identifying those factors that result in low numbers of women in political institutions and in making evidence-informed suggestions about how to ameliorate them. These factors include discrimination in party recruitment processes, male-dominated political culture and broader gender inequalities in society. In contrast, little is known about public opinion regarding these drivers of women's political under-representation, especially whether to who or what women assign blame for the under-representation of women in politics differs from men. This article provides the first discussion and analysis of blame assignment for women's numeric under-representation in politics. In doing so, it outlines and operationalises a framework that distinguishes between meritocratic explanations of women's under-representation, whereby the blame for women not holding political office in greater numbers is assigned to women themselves, and structural explanations, whereby social forces external to women are seen to result in their numeric under-representation. Cross-national data from 27 European countries is used to show that women are significantly more likely than men to assign blame for women's numeric under-representation to structural factors. The hierarchical nature of the dataset is exploited using multilevel models and significant differences in levels of structural blame assignment between countries is found as well as between-country variation in the probability of women assigning blame to structural explanations for women's under-representation. Finally, the category of structural explanations is disaggregated in order to assess their relative prominence and to provide strong corroborative evidence that women predominantly assign blame for women's under-representation to political culture over other structural blame factors. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the study's findings for policy makers contemplating the pursuit of gender equality policies aimed at increasing women's political representation and makes suggestions for the direction of future research in this area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-487
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Issue number2
Early online date28 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2019


  • blame assignment
  • gender and politics
  • political representation
  • public opinion
  • women and politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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