Skip to main content

Why Does Alejandro Know More about Politics than Catalina? Explaining the Latin American Gender Gap in Political Knowledge


This article tests contextual and individual-level explanations of the gender gap in political knowledge in Latin American countries. It suggests that this gap is impacted by political and economic settings through two interrelated mechanisms: gender accessibility (that is, the extent of available opportunities for women to influence the political agenda) and gender-bias signaling (that is, the extent to which women play important roles in the public sphere). Analyzing data from the 2008 Americas Barometer survey, this study shows that the gender gap in political knowledge is smaller among highly educated citizens, in rural areas (where both men and women know little about politics) and in bigger cities (where women’s levels of political knowledge are higher). More importantly, the magnitude of the gap varies greatly across countries. Gender differences in income, party system institutionalization and the representation of women in national parliaments are all found to play a particularly important role in explaining the magnitude of the gender gap in political knowledge across Latin America.

Hide All

Institute of Public Goods and Policies, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, and the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute (email:;; Department of Social and Political Sciences, University of Derby (email: This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy (Reference: CSO2012-32009). We wish to thank the anonymous reviewers, and especially the editor, for their suggestions, which significantly contributed to improving the article. Data replication and online appendices sets are available at

Hide All
Althaus Scott. 2003. Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Atkeson Lonna Rae. 2003. Not All Cues are Created Equal: The Conditional Impact of Female Candidates on Political Engagement. Journal of Politics 65 (4):10401061.
Atkeson Lonna Rae, and Carrillo Nancy. 2007. More is Better: The Influence of Collective Female Descriptive Representation on External Efficacy. Politics and Gender 3 (1):79101.
Barnes Tiffany D., and Burchard Stephanie M.. 2013. Engendering Politics: The Impact of Descriptive Representation on Women’s Political Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. Comparative Political Studies 46 (7):767790.
Batista Pereira Federico. 2001. Political Knowledge Levels across the Urban-Rural Divide in Latin American and the Caribbean. AmericasBarometer Insights 68. Vanderbilt University: Latin American Public Opinion Project.
Bennett Linda, and Bennett Stephen Earl. 1989. Enduring Gender Differences in Political Interest: The Impact of Socialization and Political Dispositions. American Politics Quarterly 17 (1):105122.
Brambor Thomas, Clark Williams Roberts, and Golder Matt. 2006. Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analysis. Political Analysis 14 (1):6382.
Bruhn Kathleen. 2003. Whores and Lesbians: Political Activism, Party Strategies, and Gender Quotas in Mexico. Electoral Studies 22 (1):101119.
Burns Nancy. 2007. Gender in the Aggregate, Gender in the Individual, Gender and Political Action. Politics and Gender 3 (1):104124.
Burns Nancy, Schlozman Kay Lehman, and Verba Sidney. 2001. The Private Roots of Public Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Campbell David E., and Wolbrecht Christina. 2006. See Jane Run: Women Politicians as Role Models for Adolescents. Journal of Politics 68 (2):233247.
Caul Miki. 1999. Women’s Representation in Parliament. The Role of Political Parties. Party Politics 5 (1):7998.
Delli Carpini Michael X., and Keeter Scott. 1996. What Americans Know About Politics and Why it Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Delli Carpini Michael X., and Keeter Scott. 2000. Gender and Political Knowledge. In Gender and American Politics: Women, Men, and the Political Process, edited by Sue Tolleson Rinehart and Jyl Josephson, 2152. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Desposato Scott, and Norrander Barbara. 2009. The Gender Gap in Latin America: Contextual and Individual Influences on Gender and Political Participation. British Journal of Political Science 39 (1):141162.
Díaz Dominguez Alejandro. 2011. Political Knowledge and Religious Channels of Socialization in Latin America. AmericasBarometer Insights 55. Vanderbilt University: Latin American Public Opinion Project.
Dolan Kathleen. 2006. Symbolic Mobilization? The Impact of Candidate Sex in American Elections. American Politics Research 34 (6):687704.
Dow Jay K. 2009. Gender Differences in Political Knowledge: Distinguishing Characteristics-Based and Returns-Based Differences. Political Behavior 31 (1):117136.
Fraile Marta. 2013. Do Information Rich Contexts Reduce Knowledge Inequalities? The Contextual Determinants of Political Knowledge in Europe. Acta Politica 48 (2):119143.
Fraile Marta. 2014. Do Women Know Less About Politics Than Men? The Gender Gap in Political Knowledge in Europe. Social Politics 21 (2):261289.
Freedom House. 2009. Freedom in the World: Setbacks and Resilience. Washington, DC: Freedom House.
Freedom House. 2010. Freedom in the World: Global Erosion of Freedom. Washington, DC: Freedom House.
Htun Mala, and Piscopo Jennifer. 2012. Presence Without Empowerment? Women in Politics in Latin America and the Caribbean, Social Science Research Council, Brooklyn.
Inglehart Ronal, and Norris Pippa. 2003. Rising Tide. Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kam Cindy D., and Franzese Robert J.. 2007. Modeling and Interpreting Interactive Hypothesis in Regression Analysis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Kampwirth Karen. 2010. Introduction. In Gender and Populism in Latin America: Passionate Politics, edited by Karen Kampwirth, 124. University Park: Penn State University Press.
Karp Jeffrey A., and Banducci Susan A.. 2008. When Politics is not Just a Man’s Game: Women’s Representation and Political Engagement. Electoral Studies 27 (1):105115.
Kittilson Miki Caul, and Schwindt-Bayer Leslie A.. 2010. Engaging Citizens: The Role of Power-Sharing Institutions. Journal of Politics 72 (4):9901002.
Kittilson Miki Caul, and Schwindt-Bayer Leslie A.. 2012. The Gendered Effects of Electoral Institutions. Political Engagement and Participation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Koch Jeffrey. 1997. Candidate Gender and Women’s Psychological Engagement in Politics. American Politics Research 25 (1):118133.
Lawless Jennifer. 2004. Politics of Presence? Congress Women and Symbolic Representation. Political Research Quarterly 57 (1):8199.
Lovenduski Joni. 1993. Introduction: The Dynamics of Gender and Party. In Gender and Party Politics, edited by Joni Lovenduski and Pippa Norris, 115. London: Sage.
Luskin Robert. 1990. Explaining Political Sophistication. Political Behaviour 12 (4):331361.
Mainwaring Scott. 1998. Rethinking Party Systems Theory in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Importance of Party System Institutionalization, Kellogg Institute Working Paper No. 260, University of Notre Dame.
Mainwaring Scott. 1999. Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Mainwaring Scott, and Torcal Mariano. 2006. Party System Institutionalization and Party System Theory After the Third Wave of Democratization. In Handbook of Party Politics, edited by Richard Katz and William Crotty, 204227. London: Sage.
Morgan Jana, and Buice Melisa. 2013. Latin American Attitudes Towards Women in Politics: The Influence of Elite Cues, Female Advancement, and Individual Characteristics. American Political Science Review 107 (4):644662.
Norris Pippa. 2002. Democratic Phoenix: Reinventing Political Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Norris Pippa. 2009. Democracy Time-Series Data Release 3.0, January. Available from, accessed 15 February 2013.
Phillips Anne. 1995. The Politics of Presence: The Political Representation of Gender, Ethnicity, and Race. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Pitkin Hanna. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rapelli Lauri. 2014. Comparing Local, National and EU Knowledge: The Ignorant Public Reassessed. Scandinavian Political Studies 37 (4):428446.
Reingold Beth, and Harrell Jessica. 2010. The Impact of Descriptive Representation on Women’s Political Engagement: Does Party Matter? Political Research Quarterly 63 (2):280294.
Römmele Andrea. 2003. Political Parties, Party Communication and New Information and Communication Technologies. Party Politics 9 (1):720.
Safa Helen Icken. 1990. Women’s Social Movements in Latin America. Gender and Society 4 (3):354369.
Shaker Lee. 2012. Local Political Knowledge and Assessment of Citizen Competence. Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3):525537.
Thorsten Beck, Clarke George, Groff Alberto, Keefer Philip, and Walsh Patrick. 2001. New Tools in Comparative Political Economy: The Database of Political Institutions. The World Bank Economic Review 15 (1):165176.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2007. Human Development Report 2007/2008. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2009. Human Development Report 2009. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Verba Sidney, Burns Nancy, and Schlozman Kay Lehman. 1997. Knowing and Caring About Politics: Gender and Political Engagement. Journal of Politics 59 (4):10511072.
Walker Lee Demetrius, and Kehoe Gennevieve. 2013. Regime Transition and Attitudes Toward Regimen: The Latin American Gender Gap in Support for Democracy. Comparative Politics 45 (2):187204.
Waylen Georgina. 2003. Gender and Transitions: What Do We Know? Democratization 10 (1):157178.
Waylen Georgina. 2000. Gender and Democratic Politics: A Comparative Analysis of Consolidation in Argentina and Chile. Journal of Latin American Studies 32 (3):765793.
Wolbrecht Christina, and Campbell David E.. 2007. Leading by Example: Female Members of Parliament as Political Role Models. American Journal of Political Science 51 (4):921939.
World Bank. 2012. The Effect of Women’s Economic Power in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Zetterberg Par. 2009. Do Gender Quotas Foster Women’s Political Engagement? Political Research Quarterly 62 (4):715730.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Fraile and Gomez supplementary material

 PDF (108 KB)
108 KB
Supplementary Materials

Fraile and Gomez supplementary material
Fraile and Gomez supplementary material 1

 Unknown (2.1 MB)
2.1 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 231 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 719 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.