Skip to main content

Endurance at the Top: Gender and Political Ambition of Spanish and Swedish MPs

  • Carol Galais (a1), Patrik Öhberg (a2) and Xavier Coller (a3)

The gender gap in political ambition is an important explanation for the absence of women in legislative assemblies. However, previous research on this matter is limited by two facts: it is conducted mostly in the United States and does not pay much attention to cultural and institutional factors. In this article, we test the extent to which established mechanisms behind female politicians' career ambitions—such as differentiated political socialization and family support for men and women—are related to gender inequality among parliamentarians. We also draw attention to other lesser-known aspects, such as political culture and gender policies. To do so, we compare Spain and Sweden, two countries with a relatively high number of female members of parliament (MPs) but different cultures and gender policies. We make use of two representative surveys on Swedish and Spanish MPs. The results show that female MPs in Spain have to sacrifice their family life more than Spanish males and Swedish MPs regardless of sex. In addition, Spanish female MPs' long-term political ambitions are more dependent on family support. Female MPs' ambition in Sweden, in turn, is highly influenced by a politicized upbringing.

Hide All
Allen Peter. 2013. “Gendered Candidate Emergence in Britain: Why Are More Women Councillors Not Becoming MPs?Politics 33 (3): 147–59.
Barnello Michelle A., and Bratton Kathleen A.. 2007. “Bridging the Gender Gap in Bill Sponsorship.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 32 (3): 449–74.
Bettio Francesca, and Villa Paola. 1998. “A Mediterranean Perspective on the Breakdown of the Relationship between Participation and Fertility.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 22 (2): 137–71.
Bledsoe Timothy, and Herring Mary. 1990. “Victims of Circumstances: Women in Pursuit of Political Office.” American Political Science Review 84 (1): 213–23.
Borchert Jens, and Stolz Klaus. 2011. “Introduction: Political Careers in Multi-Level Systems.” Regional and Federal Studies 21 (2): 107–15.
Brace Paul. 1984. “Progressive Ambition in the House: A Probabilistic Approach.” Journal of Politics 46 (2): 556–71.
Burrell Barbara C. 1994. A Woman's Place Is in the House: Campaigning for Congress in the Feminist Era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Burt-Way Barbara J., and Kelly Rita Mae. 1992. “Gender and Sustaining Political Ambition: A Study of Arizona Elected Officials.” Political Research Quarterly 45 (1): 1125.
Campbell David E., and Wolbrecht Christina. 2006. “See Jane Run: Women Politicians as Role Models for Adolescents.” Journal of Politics 68 (2): 233–47.
Carroll Susan J. 1994. Women as Candidates in American Politics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Carroll Susan J. ed. 2001. The Impact of Women in Public Office. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Chattopadhyay Raghabendra, and Duflo Esther. 2004. “Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India.” Econometrica 72 (5): 1409–43.
Clark Cal, Clark Janet, and Chou Bih-er. 1993. “Ambition, Activist Role Orientations, and Alienation among Women Legislators in Taiwan: The Impact of Countersocialization.” Political Psychology 14 (3): 493510.
Clots-Figueras Irma. 2012. “Are Female Leaders Good for Education?American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 4 (1): 212–44.
Codispoti Franck. 1982. “American Governors and Progressive Ambition: An Analysis of Opportunities to Run for the Senate.” PhD diss., Michigan State University.
Coller Xavier, Santana Andrés, and Jaime Antonio M.. 2014. “Problemas y soluciones para la construcción de bases de datos de políticos.” Revista Española de Ciencia Política y de la Administración 34: 169–98.
Costantini Edmond. 1990. “Political Women and Political Ambition: Closing the Gender Gap.” American Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 741–70.
Constantini Edmond, and Craik Kenneth H.. 1977. “Women as Politicians: The Social Background, Personality, and Political Careers of Female Party Leaders.” In A Portrait of Marginality: The Political Behavior of American Women, eds. Githens Marianne and Prestage Jewell. New York: McKay, 221–40.
Conway M. Margaret, Ahern David W., and Steuernagel Gertrude A.. 2004. Women and Political Participation: Cultural Change in the Political Arena. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Dolan Julie Anne B., Deckman Melissa M., and Swers Michele L.. 2010. Women and Politics: Paths to Power and Political Influence. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson.
Elder Laurel. 2004. “Why Women Don't Run: Explaining Women's Underrepresentation in America's Political Institutions.” Women & Politics 26 (2): 2756.
Esaiasson Peter, and Holmberg Sören. 1996. Representation from Above: Members of Parliament and Representative Democracy in Sweden. Aldershot: Dartmouth.
Esping-Andersen Gosta. 1999. Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Evertsson Marie, and Nermo Magnus. 2004. “Dependence within Families and the Household Division of Labor Comparing Sweden and the United States.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (5): 1272–86.
Fox Richard L., and Lawless Jennifer L.. 2003. “Family Structure, Sex-Role Socialization, and the Decision to Run for Office.” Women & Politics 24 (4): 1948.
Fox Richard L., and Lawless Jennifer L.. 2004. “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office.” American Journal of Political Science 48 (2): 264–80.
Fox Richard L., and Lawless Jennifer L.. 2014. “Reconciling Family Roles with Political Ambition: The New Normal for Women in Twenty-First Century U.S. Politics.” Journal of Politics 76 (2): 398414.
Fulton Sarah A., Maestas Cherie D., Maisel L. Sandy, and Stone Walter J.. 2006. “The Sense of a Woman: Gender, Ambition, and the Decision to Run for Congress.” Political Research Quarterly 59 (2): 235–48.
Fuwa Makiko, and Cohen Philip N.. 2007. “Housework and Social Policy.” Social Science Research 36 (2): 512–30.
Galais Carol. 2008. “¿Socialización o contexto? La implicación política subjetiva de los españoles (1985–2006).” Unpublished thesis, Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.
Gidengil Elisabeth, O'Neill Brenda, and Young Lisa. 2010. “Her Mother's Daughter? The Influence of Childhood Socialization on Women's Political Engagement.” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 31 (4): 334–55.
Goldscheider Frances, Goldscheider Calvin, and Rico-Gonzalez Antonio. 2014. “Gender Equality in Sweden: Are the Religious More Patriarchal?Journal of Family Issues 35 (7): 892908.
Hall Peter A., and Gingerich Daniel W.. 2009. “Varieties of Capitalism and Institutional Complementarities in the Political Economy: An Empirical Analysis.British Journal of Political Science 39 (3): 449–82.
Hinojosa Magda. 2012. Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Holmberg Sören. 2009. “Candidate Recognition in Different Electoral Systems.” In The Comparative Study of Electoral System, ed. Klingemann Hans-Dieter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 158–70.
Kazee Thomas A., ed. 1994. Who Runs for Congress? Ambition, Context, and Candidate Emergence. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Krook Mona Lena. 2003. “Not All Quotas Are Created Equal: Trajectories of Reform to Increase Women's Political Representation.” Presented at the European Consortium for Political Research, Joint Sessions of Workshops, Edinburgh, Scotland. (accessed July 5, 2016).
Krook Mona Lena, and O'Brien Diane Z.. 2012. “All the President's Men? The Appointment of Female Cabinet Ministers Worldwide.” Journal of Politics 74 (3): 840–55.
Lapuerta Irene, Baizán Pau, and González María José. 2011. “Individual and Institutional Constraints: An Analysis of Parental Leave Use and Duration in Spain.” Population Research and Policy Review 30 (2): 185210.
Lawless Jennifer L., and Fox Richard L.. 2005. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lawless Jennifer L., and Fox Richard L.. 2010. It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lee Marcia Manning. 1976. “Why Few Women Hold Public Office: Democracy and Sexual Roles.” Political Science Quarterly 91 (2): 297314.
López-Sáez Mercedes, Morales J. Francisco, and Lisbona Ana. 2008. “Evolution of Gender Stereotypes in Spain: Traits and Roles.” Spanish Journal of Psychology 11 (2): 609–17.
Lovenduski Joni. 2005. Feminizing Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Macdonald Stuart Elaine. 1987. “Political Ambition and Attainment: A Dynamic Analysis of Parliamentary Careers.” PhD diss., University of Michigan.
Maestas Cherie D., Fulton Sarah, Maisel L. Sandy, and Stone Walter J.. 2006. “When to Risk It? Institutions, Ambitions, and the Decision to Run for the U.S. House.” American Political Science Review 100 (2): 195208.
Mansbridge Jane. 1999. “Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent ‘Yes.’Journal of Politics 61 (3): 628–57.
Mayer Jeremy D., and Schmidt Heather M.. 2004. “Gendered Political Socialization in Four Contexts: Political Interest and Values among Junior High School Students in China, Japan, Mexico and the United States.” Social Science Journal 41 (3): 393407.
McKay Joanna. 2011. “‘Having it All?’ Women MPs and Motherhood in Germany and the UK.” Parliamentary Affairs 64 (4): 714–36.
Mestre Tània Verge, and Marín Raül Tormos. 2012. “La persistencia de las diferencias de género en el interés por la política.” Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas 138 (1): 89108.
Molina Óscar, and Rhodes Martin. 2007. “Conflict, Complementarities and Institutional Change in Mixed Market Economies.” In Beyond Varieties of Capitalism: Conflict, Contradictions, and Complementarities in the European Economy, eds. Hancké Bob, Rhodes Martin, and Thatcher Mark. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 223–52.
Mueller Stephen L., and Dato-On Mary Conway. 2008. “Gender-Role Orientation as a Determinant of Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship 13 (1): 320.
Norris Pippa, and Lovenduski Joni. 1995. Political Recruitment: Gender, Race and Class in the British Parliament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Oláh Livia Sz., and Bernhardt Eva. 2008. “Sweden: Combining Childbearing and Gender Equality.” Demographic Research 19 (28): 1105–44.
Palmer Barbara, and Simon Dennis. 2003. “Political Ambition and Women in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1916–2000.” Political Research Quarterly 56 (2): 127–38.
Phillips Anne. 1995. The Politics of Presence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Psacharopoulos George, and Tzannatos Zafiris. 1989. “Female Labor Force Participation: An International Perspective.” World Bank Research Observer 4 (2): 187201.
Rehavi M. Marit. 2008. “Sex and Politics: Do Female Legislators Affect State Spending?” Mimeo, University of California, Berkeley.
Reynolds Andrew. 1999. “Women in the Legislatures and Executives of the World: Knocking at the Highest Glass Ceiling.” World Politics 51 (4): 547–72.
Royo Sebastián. 2008. Varieties of Capitalism in Spain. Remaking the Spanish Economy for the New Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sartori Giovanni, et al. 1963. Il parliamentoitaliano. Napoli: ESI.
Schlesinger Joseph A. 1966. Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Schlesinger Joseph A. 1994. Political Parties and the Winning of Office. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Schmidt Vivien A. 2009. “Putting the Political Back into Political Economy by Bringing the State Back in Yet Again.” World Politics 61 (3): 516–46.
Schwindt-Bayer Leslie A. 2006. “Still Supermadres? Gender and the Policy Priorities of Latin American Legislators.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (3): 570–85.
Schwindt-Bayer Leslie A. 2011. “Women Who Win: Social Backgrounds, Paths to Power, and Political Ambition in Latin American Legislatures.” Politics & Gender 7 (1): 133.
Stevens Anne. 2007. Women, Power and Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Stone Walter J., and Maisel L. Sandy. 2003. “The Not-So-Simple Calculus of Winning: Potential U.S. House Candidates’ Nomination and General Election Prospects.” Journal of Politics 65 (4): 951–77.
Svallfors Stefan. 2006. The Moral Economy of Class: Class and Attitudes in Comparative Perspective. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Teorell Jan, Dahlberg Stefan, Holmberg Sören, Rothstein Bo, Hartmann Felix, and Svensson Richard. 2015. “The Quality of Government Standard Dataset,” v. Jan15. University of Gothenburg, Quality of Government Institute. (accessed June 29, 2016).
Valiente Celia. 2000. “Reconciliation policies in Spain.” In Gendered Policies in Europe: Reconciling Employment and Family Life, ed. Hantrais Linda. London: Macmillan, 143–59.
Vanlangenakker Ine, Wauters Bram, and Maddens Bart. 2013. “Pushed Toward the Exit? How Female MPs Leave Parliament.” Politics & Gender 9 (1): 6175.
Witt Linda, Paget Karen M., and Matthews Glenna. 1995. Running as a Woman: Gender and Power in American Politics. New York: Simon &Schuster.
Wolak Jennifer, and McDevitt Michael. 2011. “The Roots of the Gender Gap in Political Knowledge in Adolescence.” Political Behavior 33 (3): 505–33.
Young Lisa. 2000. Feminists and Party Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Recommend this journal

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

Politics & Gender
  • ISSN: 1743-923X
  • EISSN: 1743-9248
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-gender
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Galais supplementary material
Online Appendix

 Word (21 KB)
21 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 115 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 652 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.