More Women in Government Means Less Corruption

British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, G7, Canada
Just two women, British Prime Minister Theresa May (in blue) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (in green) are represented among the nine heads of state attending the G7 summit in Quebec, Canada, in 2018. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Worried that government officials are increasingly corrupt? You have a plenty of company.

The most recent findings of a Transparency International report, show that in the United States, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the government is failing to fight corruption, and 74 percent no longer feel that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.


These feelings are not limited to the United States. In a 2017 survey of 162,136 people in 119 countries, territories and regions around the globe, 57 percent said their government is doing a poor job of fighting corruption. In fact, one in four people reported paying a bribe for public services.

The answer to these corruption woes may be to encourage more women to run for office at all levels of government — and to vote them into office. A study, published in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, reports that corruption is lower in countries that have a greater share of women in elected roles, and that this correlation holds true at various levels of government — from federal to local.

"This research underscores the importance of women empowerment, their presence in leadership roles and their representation in government. This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries, including the United States," said researcher Sudipta Sarangi, an economics professor at Virginia Tech in a press release.


More Women, Less Corruption?

Sarangi and his colleague Chandan Jha, an economics professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, analyzed data from more than 125 countries and found that not only do fewer bribes occur when women are in office, but that this type of corruption remains tamped-down even if women have been in power for a greater length of time and have access to more powerful networks. This data negates the idea that women aren't as corrupt as men simply because they "have been in politics for less time and have less access to the 'old boys network,'" Sarangi says in an interview. "Women in high gender-equality countries are still less corrupt."

While there are hundreds of previous studies on the impact of women in government, a review by Sarangi and Jha found that most of the studies involved simply establishing a data relationship between female politicians and government corruption.


"It was purely correlation to say that more women in parliament is associated with less corruption," Sarangi says. "That may be true, but that does not establish a 'cause and effect.' If I say, 'every time my grandma buys shoes, it rains in Spain, does that mean that every time my grandma buys shoes, it causes it to rain?' Certainly not."

He adds that an extensive body of previous research shows that women who are elected officials "favor policies aimed at health, education, public safety, the kinds of things that are more closely related to the welfare of women, children and families."

"Women may handle power differently than men, as many women have personally experienced having a lack of power at some point, so they may better understand the needs for representation for those not in power," says Heather Conklin, a political scientist and researcher, and founder of SPOT Strategies, which specializes in civic engagement and civic leadership training. "Potentially, more women in positions of political power could contribute to more inclusive policies and political decision-making."

The study results show that the impact of women in government can be felt at all levels, not just federal seats. It's an important notion, considering that in the United States, there are three men in political office for every one woman.

There are, at least preliminarily, signs of change. A record 127 women serve in the 116th Congress which began in 2019, up from 107 previously. This makes Congress about 23.7 percent female. While the U.S. currently ranks 75th out of 193 countries, in terms of the number of women in the national legislature, this increase could be a sign that times are changing.