Women in Politics: Perception vs. Reality

Does public perception of women’s ability as politicians translate into actual female representation in government?
Using data from Fathom Information Design’s No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, we examined the relationship between the percentage of men and women who disagree men make better political leaders than women and female representation in parliament. While gender quotas in politics and gender equality advancement affect representation in some countries, there is no one conclusive factor determining female representation in government.


1) USA & Sweden

In the survey about male political leaders, an average of 80% of people disagreed that men make better political leaders (75.4% for men, 85.1% for women). Similarly in Sweden, a slightly higher average of 86% of people disagreed that men make better political leaders (83% for men, 88.5% for women). While the average percentage for these two countries don’t differ greatly, the actual female representation in government is a different story.

Sweden is one of the leading countries for female representation in parliament at about 45%. Sweden does not have any legislated quotas for women in parliament. Sweden does, however, have more gender equality throughout other aspects in their country such as parental leave (for both parents) and women holding 40% of seats in central banks. The United States, however, falls short with only about 18% of female representation in parliament. The United States also does not guarantee paid maternity leave and on top of that doesn’t offer parental leave for men either. In addition, the United States only had 20% of seats in central banks held by women in 2010.

2) Chile & Colombia

Colombia is another country with a legislated quota for women. While the quota seemed to have a positive effect in Rwanda, even with a quota, only 12% of parliament members in Colombia are women. This is a significant drop from the percentage of people who disagree that men make better political leaders, which averages at 69.1% between men (65.1%) and women (73.1%).

Chile, on the other hand, does not have a legislated quota for women. Even without this quota, while their percentage is still low, women represent 14% of parliament members, which is 2% higher than Colombia. A larger percentage of women in Chile disagree that men make better political leaders (78.3%), but a significantly smaller percentage of men disagree (58.9%), making their average lower than Colombia at 68.6%.

Explore the Data

Countries are ordered by the discrepency between attitudes and representation.