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Voting For Mom: The Political Consequences of Being a Parent for Male and Female Candidates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 September 2010

Brittany L. Stalsburg
Rutgers University


In this article, I explore the political consequences of being a parent for men and women seeking political office. Although a long-standing body of research has concluded that family obligations constrain the political careers of women but not of men, almost no research examines how family status can affect voter evaluations of political candidates. Using an experiment in which I varied the candidate's gender and parental status, I find that on a number of indicators, voters rate childless female candidates substantially lower than childless male candidates, mother candidates, and father candidates. Childless women also lose the traditional “female advantage” on child-care and children's issues. Additionally, while mothers of young children are not significantly disadvantaged compared to mothers of older children and women with no children, they are disadvantaged in comparison to male candidates with young children. Furthermore, this study finds evidence that male candidates may receive a “fatherhood penalty” compared to men with no children. Thus, there are political consequences of being a parent, but the consequences are dependent on the candidate's gender. These findings have important implications for candidate campaign strategy and how female candidates should think about presenting their family lives to voters.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2010

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