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Do Political Gender Quotas Reduce Corruption?

Political gender quotas are 35 years old—and evidence suggests that they work.

Key points

  • More than half the countries in the world have used gender quotas to increase the number of women in elected office.
  • A Swedish study finds that honest female mayors may not be elected to a subsequent term in office unless they align with corrupt practices.
  • Research confirms that women impact corruption through policymaking and will continue to do so as they gain more representation.
  • Gender quotas lead to a small but statistically significant (0.204 percent) decrease in government corruption.
Debbie Peterson/heyjasperai
Debbie Peterson/heyjasperai

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) reports that more than half of the countries of the world have enacted gender quotas to increase women’s participation in elected office. The democratic basis for gender quotas is the right to equal representation, but in many cases, quotas were implemented because studies found that where women lead, both in government and in industry, there is lower corruption.

Some of the gender quotas have been in place for more than thirty-five years, enough time to evaluate whether the quotas have succeeded in creating equal representation and, if so, whether having more women in elected positions has decreased corruption.

After a wide-ranging study of French mayors in 2020, the University of Gothenburg Quality of Government Institute concluded that women mayors who reduced corruption risks were not elected for a subsequent term in office unless they aligned with corrupt practices. This finding raises the question of whether the integrity effect will be long-lasting.

The French mayors differed from many other studies of women in office because the mayors were not in legislative or parliamentary posts but in administrative posts with direct responsibility for approving contracts. Most studies have targeted women elected to higher-level parliamentary roles, which are legislative rather than administrative, and focused on policymaking. Since 2013 the United Nations World Happiness Study has shown a strong correlation between women in parliamentary government positions and lower corruption.

Researchers Chandan Jha of Le Moyne College and Sudipta Sarangi of Virginia Tech, in a peer-reviewed 2018 study of 125 countries, concluded that countries with a greater representation of women in government or policymaking positions are less corrupt. Their findings address the cause-and-effect questions about women in leadership, suggesting that it is through policy-making roles that women impact corruption and that the relationship will continue as women gain even more equal government representation.

According to Sarangi, "This research underscores the importance of women's empowerment, their presence in leadership roles, and their representation in government. This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries, including the United States."

A notable 2020 Senior Project by University of Akron Department of Economics student Elvira Ochatiouk examined the question of women and corruption and goes on to address the question in her analysis of the 125 countries with gender quotas over a period of thirty-two years. Ochatiouk’s study, “The Effects of Gender Quotas on Corruption: Are Women the Solution?" found that the presence of a gender quota leads to a 0.204 percent decrease in corruption. The effect is small but still statistically significant.

In 2023 the takeaway for policymakers stands: that adopting gender quotas will likely benefit their constituents beyond just equitable representation. Implementing gender quotas as a means to decrease corruption works. Doing "the right thing"—establishing equal representation—also increases the chances that governments will experience more “doing the right thing” ethically.


Ochatiouk, Elvira. (2020). Department of Economics Senior Project. The University of Akron.

Jha, Chandan, Le Moyne College, & Sarangi, Sudipta, Virginia Tech (July 2018). Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 151, Pages 219-233.

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