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The Ties That Double Bind: Social Roles and Women's Underrepresentation in Politics


This paper theorizes three forms of bias that might limit women's representation: outright hostility, double standards, and a double bind whereby desired traits present bigger burdens for women than men. We examine these forms of bias using conjoint experiments derived from several original surveys—a population survey of American voters and two rounds of surveys of American public officials. We find no evidence of outright discrimination or of double standards. All else equal, most groups of respondents prefer female candidates, and evaluate men and women with identical profiles similarly. But on closer inspection, all is not equal. Across the board, elites and voters prefer candidates with traditional household profiles such as being married and having children, resulting in a double bind for many women. So long as social expectations about women's familial commitments cut against the demands of a full-time political career, women are likely to remain underrepresented in politics.

Corresponding author
Dawn Langan Teele is a Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, 208 S. 37th St., Room 217, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215, (412) 400-9578 (
Joshua Kalla is a Ph.D. Student, University of California, Berkeley, 210 Barrows Hall #1950, Berkeley, CA 94720-1950, (412) 860-9271 (
Frances Rosenbluth is a Damon Wells Professor of Political Science, Yale University,, 115 Prospect St., 3rd floor, New Haven, CT 06511, (203) 432-5256 (
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For thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts we would like to thank Diana O'Brien, Dan Hopkins, Dominik Hangartner, Jas Sekhon, Jake Bowers, Simon Chauchard, Øyvind Skorge, Timothy Besley, Kira Sanbonmatsu, Teppei Yamamoto, participants at the PSPE research lunch at the London School of Economics, conference attendees at the University of Zurich and 2015 APSA, and Columbia University. For research assistance we thank Casey Libonate and Alex Dadgar. Supplementary material for this paper is available in the Appendix in the online edition. This research was approved by the Yale University Human Subjects Committee (IRB Protocol #1405013934) and University of California, Berkeley Committee for Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS Protocol #2014-09-6668). Support for this research was provided by the Yale University Institution for Social and Policy Studies, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Women in Parliaments Global Forum, and Time Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS). Some of the data were collected by Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences, NSF Grant 0818839, Jeremy Freese and James Druckman, Principal Investigators.

Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:

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