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Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-NY Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-NY

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-NY

Jill Terreri Ramos
By Jill Terreri Ramos November 16, 2018

Do women do better in Congress than men?

Days after she won re-election, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand embarked on a media tour to promote her new children’s book about the fight for women’s suffrage. She has said she will think about running for president.

In an interview on Good Morning America, Gillibrand, Democrat from New York, talked about how thrilled she is that more women are getting involved in politics, by voting and running for office.

"Studies even show that when women go to Congress they get more things done - more bipartisan effort, more bills passed," she said.

Given women’s recent gains in Congress, we’re curious: Is she right?

The research is mixed.

Same stalemate 

The narrative that "women in Congress are more likely than men to collaborate, solve problems, and get the nation’s business done," isn’t true, wrote two political scientists.

"We tested the premise in four ways, and we came up with no evidence for it whatsoever, no matter where we looked," Jennifer L. Lawless and Sean M. Theriault wrote in an article summarizing their longer journal article.

Three political scientists -- Lawless of  the University of Virginia, Theriault of the University of Texas and Samantha Guthrie of American University -- studied how members of Congress acted in four ways: travel to research foreign policy, co-sponsor bills, cast procedural votes and offer amendments.

In each area, the women in Congress did not have more bipartisan tendencies and they did not demonstrate a greater willingness to collaborate. Using the data from Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index, which rates senators on their support of legislation across party lines, the authors found that Democratic women and men are "statistically indistinguishable" from one another, as are their Republican colleagues.

"To be sure, women’s presence in Congress promotes democratic legitimacy, but it does little to reduce gridlock and stalemate on Capitol Hill," according to their Journal of Politics article in October.

More bills and co-sponsors

Another study, however, found that women senators gained more bipartisan co-sponsors for their bills and passed more bills over a seven-year period. The study, published by Quorum, a Washington, D.C.-based technology company, showed that in the House, women secured co-sponsors for their bills from both parties at a higher rate than men, though they did not pass more bills than men.

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We contacted Gillibrand’s office for evidence of her claim and a spokeswoman pointed us to a Washington Post article from March about a new book on how women politicians face greater hurdles to getting elected, and therefore work harder once they are in office. Authors Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt, political scientists at Georgia State University, told the Post that their "book is consistent with a host of other research that emphasizes that female legislators are generally more effective than men. They are better at getting their bills passed, and work in a more consensual manner."  

Women secure more discretionary spending for their constituents and introduce more bills, according to Lazarus and Steigerwalt’s book, Gendered Vulnerability: How Women Work Harder to Stay in Office. It also cites other research that supports the idea that women are more bipartisan than men.

Political science professors Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman and Dana E. Wittmer wrote in the American Journal of Political Science that women in the minority party in the House of Representatives  "continue to strive to build coalitions and bring about new policies," unlike men in the minority party. The authors, however, also found that "majority party women have become less effective as Congress has become more polarized."    

The same authors wrote in 2010, that "our main findings suggest that high effort, consensus building, and issue specialization help female lawmakers achieve increased legislative effectiveness, but only under certain circumstances."  

Gillibrand’s office also cited an analysis in Vox, which highlighted several studies of women’s increased productivity as legislators relative to men.

One oft-cited study, "The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?" found women secured more discretionary spending for their districts and sponsored and co-sponsored more bills than men.

Yet another study, published in 2016, found that in the House between 1990 and 2010, Republican women had more success securing bipartisan sponsors for bills than men, while Democratic women secured fewer bipartisan sponsors for their bills than men.  

"We interpret these results as evidence that cooperation is mostly driven by a commonality of interest, rather than gender per se," wrote Stefano Gagliarducci and M. Daniele Paserman.

Our ruling

Gillibrand said studies show that when women are elected to Congress, they get more things done, are more bipartisan and pass more bills.

Studies show women sponsor more bills, secure more discretionary spending for their constituents, and under certain circumstances, reach across the aisle more. In the Senate, women have been more successful than men at passing bills. Studies also show that when women are elected, they work harder than their male colleagues.

Other research, however, shows women are not more bipartisan than men and that women’s effectiveness relative to men’s effectiveness varies under different conditions.

We rate Gillibrand’s claim Mostly True.  

If Gillibrand hadn’t qualified her statement with "studies show," and instead had made an outright claim about women’s performance in Congress, we likely would have reached a different ruling.


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Mostly True
“Studies even show that when women go to Congress they get more things done - more bipartisan effort, more bills passed.”
in a television interview
Monday, November 12, 2018

Our Sources

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand interview, Good Morning America, Nov. 12, 2018. Accessed Nov. 12, 2018.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand interview, Nov. 8, 2018, Late Show with Stephen Colbert, via YouTube. Accessed Nov. 13, 2018.

"Record number of women heading to Congress," Washington Post, Nov. 8, 2018. Accessed Nov. 13, 2018.

"There’s No Nice Lady Caucus in Congress," The New York Times, Nov. 10, 2018. Accessed Nov. 13, 2018.

"Working Together and Across the Aisle, Female Senators Pass More Legislation Than Male Colleagues," Quorum. Accessed Nov. 15, 2018.

"Women in Congress are More Bipartisan, Collaborative But Still Less Powerful," Huffington Post, Feb. 20, 2015. Accessed Nov. 15, 2018.

"Could Women Rescue Compromise in Congress," The Hewlett Foundation, April 3, 2014. Accessed Nov. 13, 2018.

"Would electing more women fix Congress?" The Atlantic, Aug. 23, 2016. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

"D or R > X or Y: Party trumps sex in the contemporary Congress,", Oct. 18, 2018. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

"Nice Girls? Sex, Collegiality, and Bipartisan Cooperation in the U.S. Congress," Jennifer L. Lawless, Sean M. Theriault, Samantha Guthrie, Journal of Politics, Oct. 2018. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

Email conversation, Jennifer L. Lawless, University of Virginia, Nov. 14, 2018.

Email, telephone conversation with Whitney Mitchell Brennan, communications director, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Nov. 14, 2018.

"Do women in Congress work harder than their male colleagues?" Washington Post, March 8, 2018. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

Gendered Vulnerability: How Women Work Harder to Stay in Office synopsis, Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt, University of Michigan Press.

When Are Women More Effective Lawmakers Than Men? Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman, Dana E. Wittmer, American Journal of Political Science, Jan. 22, 2013. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

"The Legislative Effectiveness of Women in Congress," Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman, Dana E. Wittmer, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Aug. 2010. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

"The research is clear: electing more women changes how government works," Vox, March 8, 2017. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.

Email conversation, Ann Bookman, director, and Christa Kelleher, research director, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Nov. 14 and 15, 2018.

The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?, Sarah F. Anzia, Christopher R. Berry, American Journal of Political Science, April 4, 2011. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.


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