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Does Exposure to Gender Role Models Increase Women’s Political Ambition? A Field Experiment with Politicians

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2019

Florian Foos
Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom, e-mail:,, Twitter: @florianfoos
Fabrizio Gilardi
Department of Political Science, University of Zurich, 8050 Zürich, Switzerland, e-mail:,, Twitter:@fgilardi


There is a persistent gender gap in motivations to run for political office. While exposure to role models is widely believed to increase women’s political ambition, there is little field experimental evidence on whether exposure to female politicians in realistic settings can increase political ambition. We conducted a field experiment in which a sample of 612 female students was randomly assigned to receive emails inviting them to an event that included career workshops with female politicians, or no email. The treatment increased interest in the ongoing national election campaign, but, against expectations, did not have any positive effect on political ambition. Our results suggest that female politicians who discuss their experience bluntly, instead of following a motivational script, may fail to motivate other women to pursue a political career. These results highlight the need for more research into the type of events and messages that bring more women into politics.

Research Article
© The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2019

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The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: (Foos and Gilardi, 2019). We thank Roger Gfrörer, Setareh Gharibi, Andrea Gisler, Christiane Löwe, Elisabeth Pöschl, and Sandra Plaza for their invaluable support; Andrea Häuptli, Giordano Neuenschwander, and Ester Treccani for excellent research assistance; and Stefanie Bailer, Sarah Fulton, Malu Gatto, Nathalie Giger, Sarah Lawrence, Dina Pomeranz, Eva Ranehill, Maria Sobolewska, three anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor, Dan Rubenson, for helpful comments. This paper was first presented at the 2016 European Political Science Association Conference in Brussels. The experiment was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of the University of Zurich. There are no conflicts of interest to report.



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