2017 still sees underrepresentation for women in government
JEFFERSON CITY – Despite making up more than half of the American population, women only make up 24.8 percent of state legislators in 2017.
The number of women serving as state lawmakers has more than quintupled since 1971, according to the Center for American Women in Politics.
Recent elections, though, have not yet resulted in women’s representation matching their population percentage.
Lael Keiser is a political science professor at the University of Missouri who used to work in the office of U.S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois. She says this issue of underrepresentation for women is far from fixed.
“Across the board women are underrepresented based on their presence in the population in all sorts of institutions, although they’re much less presented in legislators than in others places like public agencies,” Keiser said.
Missouri is struggling with the rest of the country to get these numbers up. The state’s capitol houses the 30th worst female representation in the state legislator with 22.3 percent. The nation is only a little better with a state average of just under 25 percent.
“People explain this gap as the result of either because of differences in lifestyle, or that the system is not encouraging women to run or that women have to run against stereotypes,” Keiser said.
While the cause is unknown, it is clear that the lack of representation could lead to consequences.
“The biggest sort of problem people worry about is that women bring a unique perspective to government. For example, things like experiences they have. The theory is when you have underrepresentation of any group whether its women or different ethnic groups or anything like that is that their voices and their perspective is not represented,” Keiser said.
While polls clearly show that women do not agree on every issue, there are some policies that most tend to agree on.
“There are some shared things. We know that republican and democratic women are likely to support policies that enhance families for example like child support enforcement or paid leaver for maternity for example,” Keiser said.
There are a variety of groups and activists along with continually changing attitudes that has led to an increase in female representation over the years. This increase, however, was not across the board this year.
While 2017 saw a slight increase in female state legislators and U.S. senators, it saw a decrease in U.S. representatives, state governors and Presidential cabinet members.
Whether the numbers reflect it, though, attitudes toward women who run for office are changing overall in favor of women.
“You can see a big difference in attitudes from previous time periods to now in terms of accepting women in positions in power,” Keiser said.