The Future is Female. Women Quotas and their Effect on Gender-Biases.

Even though economists tried to understand the human being for a very long time as a rationally behaving actor, its merely accepted now, that the choices people make stem from a bounded rationality that has an impact on their attempt to optimize their behaviour. Bohnet (2016) describes this phenomenon when she says: „(…) people make mistakes; they make them often and (sometimes) unknowingly. As a consequence, these mistakes reduce everyone’s well-being” (ibid. 2016: 4). The aim of behavioural economics is to detect the triggers of mistakes and to identify mechanisms to avoid them during the everyday life. The idea is to design an environment that enables decision-making while limiting the negative effects of heuristics or biases that everybody has. The question is how the environment has to be designed to enable such an optimizing decision making (ibid.).

Biases are one of the factors that influence the individual’s behaviour. They can be defined as inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair. Though being helpful in some cases, biases or stereotypes in the form of heuristics can also lead to inaccurate conclusions. Knowing the sex of a person almost automatically leads to gender biases resulting in an (mostly) unwanted categorization of the individual into social categories (Bohnet 2016). Among various other researchers Kilianski and Rudman (2000) define gender biases as one of the most important factors for the ongoing underrepresentation of women in leading positions in the economic or political sphere. So, how can behavioural design approaches trigger gender biases to reduce the discrimination of women in the labour market?

To come up with possible solutions Beaman, Duflo, Pande and Topalova (2012) conducted a research in around 495 villages in India in 2007 to find out whether woman quotas for political offices have an effect on the men-favouring-biases held by the villagers. In 1993 the Indian government amplified its constitution with a reservation of one third of the seats in village councils for women (Panchayati Raj Act). In addition to that, one-third of the council leaders had to be female. The new approach already showed its positive impact after a short period of time. The future aspirations of parents for their daughters – measured by their expected time of graduation and career type – increased significantly by 20% after being exposed to a female village council. The future aspirations of the daughters themselves even increased by 32%. Another effect was the decrease in time that girls spent on household activities like cooking and cleaning. Furthermore, men who were exposed to a female village council showed a slightly positive change in the competence-expectation for women in leadership positions. Having a woman as a village leader two times in a row reduces the necessity of a quota significantly, as more people are willing to vote for a woman. (ibid.). This result can be understood as an effect of reduced stereotypes and biases against women that define their main task as caring for the family as well as the household rather than their professional career. Bohnet (2016) describes these findings as being the result of the role-model-effect, which explains the increase of self-confidence of women to act outside gender-stereotypes by the visibility of a female role model like a village council.  Furthermore, the study showed evidence that the “Backlash”-hypothesis, predicting that the prioritisation of women might lead to jealousy and mistrust for the qualification of women, can be refused (Beaman et al. 2012).

Nevertheless, other studies come to the conclusion that women quotas, like the one in Norway, do not necessarily lead to a greater appreciation of women in leadership positions.  Rohini and Ford (2001) argue that – though a lot of researchers focus on the correlation between female leadership in politics and policy outcomes – the causal impacts of different quotas remain nearly untouched. Henceforth, it is necessary to analyse the underlying developments the introduction of a quota in the political sphere can bring about, as well as to examine the varying effects of different types of quotas to efficiently reduce gender biases on the individual level (Rohini and Ford 2011).


Bohnet, I. (2016): What Works. Gender Equality by Design. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

Kilianski, S. E.; Rudman, L. A (2000): Implicit and Explicit Attitudes Toward Female Authority. In: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26 (11), p. 1315-1328.

Rohini, P., Ford, D. (2011): Gender Quotas and Female Leadership. In: World Development Report 2012. Gender Equality and Development. Online accessible via:

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s