Does Gender Matter for Political Leadership? The Case of U.S. Mayors

Fernando Ferreira, Joseph Gyourko

NBER Working Paper No. 17671
Issued in December 2011
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies, Public Economics, Political Economy

What are the consequences of electing a female leader for policy and political outcomes? We answer this question in the context of U.S. cities, where women's participation in mayoral elections increased from negligible numbers in 1970 to about one-third of the elections in the 2000's. We use a novel data set of U.S. mayoral elections from 1950 to 2005, and apply a regression discontinuity design to deal with the endogeneity of female candidacy to city characteristics. In contrast to most research on the influence of female leadership, we find no effect of gender of the mayor on policy outcomes related to the size of local government, the composition of municipal spending and employment, or crime rates. While female mayors do not implement different policies, they do appear to have higher unobserved political skills, as they have a 6-7 percentage point higher incumbent effect than a comparable male. But we find no evidence of political spillovers: exogenously electing a female mayor does not change the long run political success of other female mayoral candidates in the same city or of female candidates in local congressional elections.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17671

Published: Journal of Public Economics Volume 112, April 2014, Pages 24–39 Cover image Does gender matter for political leadership? The case of U.S. mayors ☆ Fernando Ferreira, Joseph Gyourko citation courtesy of

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