Women in Congress bring home more bacon

by on September 15, 2009  •  In Congress

As reported in Politico, a new study by researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago have found that women in Congress do a better job than their male counterparts of bringing home money for their districts -

The study, which examined the performance of House members between 1984 and 2004, found that women delivered roughly 9 percent more discretionary spending for their districts than men.

For instance, during Rep. Judy Biggert’s first two-year term, Illinois’s 13th District received $382 million in federal funds, $70 million more than it received during the final term of her predecessor, Rep. Harris Fawell. Rep. Zoe Lofgren delivered around $859 million to her district, compared with $541 million brought in by her predecessor, Rep. Don Edwards, during his final term, the researchers said. And during then-Rep. Connie Morella’s first term, Maryland’s 8th District received $780 million, $183 million more than predecessor Rep. Michael Barnes brought in during his final term, they said.

While there are obviously variables beyond gender — seniority, party affiliation, majority/minority status and the differing priorities of a freshman and a veteran lawmaker — the researchers say they’ve accounted for those in making their male-to-female comparisons.

“You could easily make the argument that a politician who is on his way out, or someone who is sitting on a really powerful committee, is in a different position than someone just coming into office,” said Stanford researcher Sarah Anzia. “Not every example will cover every alternative explanation, but we control for all of those factors in the study.”

The researchers also found that women introduced more legislation than men who served in their same districts, often hitting the ground running in their first terms. “We find that, on average, women sponsor about three bills more per Congress per term than their male counterparts,” said Anzia. “They co-sponsor more bills than other members, and they also obtain more co-sponsors for their own bills.” 

…Researchers say the small number of female members may have something to do with their effectiveness. Women who run and win are likely the most politically ambitious and talented of their pool, having potentially overcome hurdles including voter bias and self-doubt about their ability to win. Female candidates also tend to attract more challengers. Politically eligible women tend to doubt their ability to get elected and raise money more than men do, multiple studies have indicated.

Once women get to Capitol Hill, those hurdles may drive them to perform better, on average, than male counterparts who have faced a less contentious road. “Research shows that even though women have similar success rates in primaries and elections as men, they are likely to face more challengers,” said Hartwick College political science department chairwoman Laurel Elder. “The results might be the same, but they might have to work harder to get those same results.”

“People ask, ‘Are you going to be strong enough? Are you going to be a fighter for us?’” said Rep. Judy Biggert, who beat five men in the initial Illinois Republican primary in 1998. “That’s always the way I’ve been treated.” Biggert said she was told during her early days in law school at Northwestern University that she was a student by mistake — a man should have been in her seat. “That has always given me the drive to work two, three times harder than men,” Biggert said. …

“Running for Congress is no walk in the park,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who has served in the House since 1995. “It’s a tough business, and people who do it successfully stand trial by fire.”

Lofgren entered the 1994 Democratic primary in California as the ultimate underdog against a favored male candidate, San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery. On primary night, television crews and reporters crowded her opponent’s headquarters, awaiting the presumed winner’s victory speech, while a lone photographer sat at Lofgren’s offices, waiting to snap a photo of the loser. But in an upset, Lofgren won the primary and then the election. Despite her victory, she faced additional hurdles on Capitol Hill that have continued to drive her daily work efforts. Her initial committee requests were ignored, she said, and she struggled to break through some of the old boys’ networks.

“There were some older male members who had a tough time accepting that there were women members,” said Lofgren, an immigration lawyer who now serves on the powerful House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees….


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