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Electing to Do Women's Work? Gendered Divisions of Labor in U.K. Select Committees, 1979–2016

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2020

Mark Goodwin
Coventry University
Stephen Holden Bates
University of Birmingham
Stephen McKay
University of Lincoln


Where female representatives are located within legislatures and what they do matters for the substantive representation of women. Previous scholarship has found that female parliamentary committee members participate differently than their male counterparts in relation to both policy area and status of positions held. Here, we draw on an original time-series data set (n = 9,767) to analyze the U.K. select committee system. We test for the impact of four variables previously found to be important in explaining changes in gendered divisions of labor: the system of appointment/election, the proportion of female representatives in the legislature, sharp increases in the number of female representatives, and changes in government from right-wing parties to left-wing parties. We find that horizontal and vertical divisions of labor persist over time and that membership patterns in the United Kingdom mainly correspond to those found elsewhere. Moreover, there is little evidence that any of the four variables have systematically affected membership patterns.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2020

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Earlier iterations of this article were presented at the 2018 BRIDGE Workshop on Committees in Comparative Perspective in Brussels and at the 2017 Political Studies Association Conference in Glasgow. We would like to thank the participants at these events for their helpful discussions, and the Birmingham-Illinois Partnership for Discovery, Engagement and Education (BRIDGE) for its financial assistance. We are grateful to Emma Foster, Nicki Smith, the editors of this journal, and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on earlier versions of the article. This research was supported by the British Academy (SQ140007).



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