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Do Men and Women Have Different Policy Preferences in Africa? Determinants and Implications of Gender Gaps in Policy Prioritization


Policies designed to increase women’s representation in Africa are often motivated by the assumption that men and women have different policy preferences. This article finds that gender differences in policy priorities are actually quite small on average, but vary significantly across policy domains and countries. The study leverages this variation to show that the economic and social empowerment of women influences the size of gender gaps in the prioritization of two important domains. In particular, women’s participation in the labor force – an indicator of economic empowerment – narrows the gender gap in the prioritization of infrastructure investment and access to clean water, while social vulnerability widens the gap on prioritizing infrastructure investment. Finally, the article shows that the places where women and men have the most divergent policy preferences – and thus where formal representation is most important – are precisely the places where women are currently the most poorly represented and least active in formal politics.

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Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University (email:; Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania (email:; Department of Political Science, Ohio State University (email: The authors thank Rumi Morishima for excellent research assistance and Leonardo Ariolla and Alice Kang for valuable feedback. The article also benefited from audience questions and suggestions at the 2014 African Studies Association and 2015 American Political Science Association annual conferences. We thank Afrobarometer for making available the data used in this article, as well as circulating a previous version of this article as Afrobarometer Working Paper No. 153. Data replication sets are available at and online appendices are available at 10.1017/S0007123416000053.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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