Funk, Kendall Dawn (2017-05). The Causes and Consequences of Women's Representation in Local Governments. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Local governments are thought to be more conducive to women's representation because they are closer to home, easier to access, and require less time and resources than positions in higher levels of government. However, women remain severely underrepresented even at the local level. What are the causes and consequences of women's (under) representation in local governments? This dissertation contributes to the small, but growing, body of research that seeks to answer this question by examining women's local representation both within a single country and across multiple countries over time. Within the dissertation, I develop several theoretical arguments and test these theories using data from Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. The first theory I present is that decentralization has a detrimental impact on women's local representation. By increasing the power and desirability of local offices, decentralization creates barriers to women's local representation. I find evidence that Latin American countries with high levels of fiscal and administrative decentralization have fewer women in local legislatures than countries with low levels of decentralization. Second, I present the glass cliff theory--the idea that women are more likely to attain leadership positions under precarious circumstances--and test whether women mayoral candidates in Brazil face a glass cliff. I find that women are more likely to be nominated to run for mayor when their political party is competing against an incumbent. In addition, women are more likely to be nominated in municipalities with small and decreasing budgets. These findings provide evidence that women face a glass cliff in their pursuit of local political representation. Third, I examine some of the consequences of women's representation as local chief executives in Brazilian municipalities. Particularly, I test the theory that women's leadership styles are more inclusive and participatory than men's styles of leading. I present evidence that the leadership styles of men and women mayors in Brazil don't differ significantly, but there are important gender differences in the types of policy areas in which local executives initiate participation. I conclude that leadership strategy, more so than style, determines whether an elected official will choose to increase citizen participation in specific areas.

publication date

  • May 2017