To Emerge? Breadwinning, Motherhood, and Women's Decisions to Run for Office

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Women's underrepresentation in American politics is often attributed to relatively low levels of political ambition. Yet scholarship still grapples with a major leak in the pipeline to power: that many qualified and politically ambitious women decide against candidacy. Focusing on women with political ambition, we theorize that at the final stage of candidate emergence, household income, breadwinning responsibilities, and household composition are interlocking obstacles to women's candidacies. We examine these dynamics through a multimethod design that includes an original survey of women most likely to run for office: alumnae of the largest Democratic campaign training organization in the United States. Although we do not find income effects, we provide evidence that breadwinning - responsibility for a majority of household income - negatively affects women's ambition, especially for mothers. These findings have important implications for understanding how the political economy of the household affects candidate emergence and descriptive representation in the United States.




Bernhard, R., Shames, S., & Teele, D. L. (2021). To Emerge? Breadwinning, Motherhood, and Women’s Decisions to Run for Office. American Political Science Review, 115(2), 379–394.

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