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Women’s Issues and Their Fates in the US Congress

  • Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman and Dana E. Wittmer

Significant scholarship indicates that female legislators focus their attention on “women’s issues” to a greater extent than do male lawmakers. Drawing on over 40 years of bill sponsorship data from the US House of Representatives, we define women’s issues in terms of those sponsored at a greater rate by women in Congress. Our analysis reveals that most (but not all) of the classically considered women’s issues are indeed raised at an enhanced rate by congresswomen. We then track the fate of those issues. While 4 percent of all bills become law, that rate drops to 2 percent for women’s issues and to only 1 percent for women’s issue bills sponsored by women themselves. This pattern persists over time—from the early 1970s through today—and upon controlling for other factors that influence bills success rates. We link the bias against women’s issues to the committee process, and suggest several avenues for further research.

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Craig Volden, Professor of Public Policy and Politics, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, L040 Garrett Hall, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400893, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4893 ( Alan E. Wiseman, Professor of Political Science and Law (by courtesy), Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, PMB 0505, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203-5721 ( Dana E. Wittmer, Assistant Professor of Political Science Department of Political Science, Colorado College, 14 E Cache La Poudre, Colorado Springs, CO 80909 ( The authors thank Claire Abernathy, Chris Berry, Chris Den Hartog, Juanita Firestone, Matt Hitt, Chris Kypriotis, Frances Lee, Lauren Mattioli, William Minozzi, Beth Reingold, Kira Sanbonmatsu, Lynn Sanders, Michele Swers, Andrew Taylor, Sean Theriault, Danielle Thomsen, Sophie Trawalter, Denise Walsh, three anonymous referees, and the editor of Political Science Research and Methods, in addition to seminar participants at the University of Virginia and the Midwest Political Science Association Conference for helpful comments on earlier drafts, and James Austrow, Tracy Burdett, Chris Kypriotis, Brian Pokosh, Mike Xu, and Nick Zeppos for valuable research assistance. This project also benefited from the use of Scott Adler and John Wilkerson’s Congressional Bills Project data and Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones’s Policy Agendas Project data. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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