Are Women More Productive Than Men in the Senate?

Study Finds Women Introduce More Bills and Do More Bipartisan Work

Unequivocally, yes. A study of publicly available legislative, data conducted by Quorum, a political analysis firm launched by Harvard students, found that women senators introduce more bills, make more bipartisan deals, and pass more legislation than their male counterparts.

To conduct this study, Quorum analyzed data from the last seven years’ worth of legislation in the Senate. The results show startling differences between men’s and women’s rates of productivity and success. During this time period, the average woman introduced 96.31 bills to the average man’s 70.72, which means that women introduced 36 percent more bills than men.

While this is an impressive difference for women (and, let’s be frank, an embarrassing one for men), what really matters is passing bills–making them into legislation. It turns out that women outpace men in this regard, too. Women got 50 percent more bills out of committee than men during the last seven years (an average of 4.88 to 3.24), and as a result, had 47 percent more bills enacted into law (2.31 versus 1.57). To quote Beyoncé, “Who run the world?”

Other findings from the study suggest that women are more effective legislators because they are more cooperative than their male colleagues, especially across party lines. On average, bills introduced by women had 9.10 cosponsors, or 53 percent more than the 5.94 cosponsors for those introduced by men. Women also cosponsor with other women more frequently than men do with other men, and, importantly, they cosponsor on average 32 percent more bills with members of the opposing party.

The study found the same effect, though not as pronounced, among the House of Representatives.

So, why are women better legislators than men? Political scientists who authored a similar study in 2009 suggest that as minorities within congress, and facing a general lack of confidence in their political abilities, women know that they must work harder and perform better in order to be viewed as successful. (The authors of this study found that women in the House of Representatives secure on average 9 percent more federal discretionary funds for their districts than do men.) Taking a sociological perspective on this trend, however, requires us to consider wider societal forces that may be at place.

I hypothesize that the role traditional gender roles play in socialization may have a lot to do with these outcomes. In the US, girls are more strongly encouraged than boys to listen to others, and to think about the needs of others. This leads to higher levels of empathy among women, which bodes well for collaboration, compromise, and looking out for the needs of others. (We see the impact of this clearly in the disparate amount of time men and women spend caring for children and taking care of household responsibilities; and in how unemployed women spend the largest portion of their days caring for others, while unemployed men watch television.)

Conversely, boys are socialized to be tough–physically and mentally strong, and taught that winning is important. Unsurprisingly, this does not serve well to develop empathy, collaboration, and compromise. On the contrary: this form of socialization promotes competition, and a dogmatic approach to defending one’s principles.

These pervasive and strong social forces bear out their effects on just about all aspects of social life. It would be truly astonishing if they did not play a role in one’s performance in politics. 

It’s remarkable to think what kind of progress could be made toward providing our society what it needs to survive and thrive if women were given their due representation in national politics. Women compose just 20 percent of our current congress, which began its session in January 2015, despite the fact that we comprise just over half of the national population. 

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