Dr. Dana Patton (The University of Alabama) and Dr. Richard Fording (The University of Alabama)
Journal Article in Social Forces, April 13, 2020
Although many studies have found that women legislators pursue policies important to women, we know relatively little concerning the effect of women’s descriptive representation (WDR) on women’s quality of life. We address this question by examining the relationship between the election of women state legislators and public health. Specifically, we estimate the effect of WDR on premature death rates from 1982 to 2010. We find that WDR serves to improve the well-being of both women and men. However, the effect of WDR on women’s health is contingent on several important factors. First, the health-improving effects of WDR are most strongly related to the descriptive representation of Democratic women. Second, the effect of Democratic WDR on women’s health, relative to men’s health, increases with the scale of the state’s Medicaid program. Finally, we estimate the mediating role of nine specific policies, finding that four policies mediate the effect of Democratic WDR on premature mortality. Overall, our results suggest that policy remedies aimed at improving the severe underrepresentation of women in government may help to improve the relatively low ranking of the United States on indicators of public health.