Graduate Project


An examination of how family structure and support affect a woman's candidacy for public office Public Deposited

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  • The year, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, granting American (primarily white) women the right to vote, however, women remain underrepresented in elected offices across the United States. In comparison to men, women face several additional challenges related to gender when attempting to reach the upper echelons of political power. These challenges stem from a complex web of historical, social, and institutional barriers that work together to prevent more women from running for political office. This paper examines gender roles related to family structure and support that influence a woman’s decision to run for public office. Some challenges women candidates face when running for office include traditional family roles and unpaid, household work; upbringing influences; motherhood and fatherhood penalties candidates face while campaigning; the impact of “women’s issues” on a campaign; and political party influence and recruitment. Using a 2008 dataset from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, nine tables are constructed that focus on family structure and support and how it may influence a decision to run for office. The theory of Social Construction of Target Populations (SCTP) is applied to evaluate the data. Through the political theory, the author posits that women face more social barriers than men when attempting to gain access to the “advantaged” category where policy benefits are experienced the most. Using SCTP as a lens, social institutions reinforce the cultural and societal messaging that women are “dependents,” “deviants,” and “contenders.” Public policy to increase the number of women in political office should focus on addressing social constructs, such as family structure and gender roles. European shared-leave policies for child-rearing is offered as a policy option to normalize caregiving for both fathers and mothers.
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