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Government and Economy

Women's Political Participation and its Fiscal Impact

Mieko Nakabayashi
Associate Professor, Center for International Education, Waseda University (Global Leadership Program)

Is the term "women's active participation" disturbing?

Japan's Act for Promoting the Active Participation of Women in the Workforce came into effect on April 1, signaling the start of the nation's new initiative to enhance women's participation at the workplace. Meanwhile, no specific measures for encouraging political participation of women are on the horizon despite going forth with making legislations and budgetary provisions to design a social system conducive for both women and men to work and build a prosperous society.

Such expectation for women to play more active roles without reforming the social structure intuitively implies more burdens on women. As a matter of fact, being asked how they feel about "women's active participation" in a survey, over 70 percent of college-educated housewives responded "skeptical or negative," and 16.5 percent even felt "disturbed by politicians for simply referring to women when it is politically expedient to do so (Morning Edition of The Nikkei on March 19, 2016).” Also, the problem of children on waiting lists for daycare centers has received a lot of attention lately. In order to fill the disparity between expectations for more active roles by women at the workplace and the realities they face, women inevitably need to take initiative to participate in politics.

Countries without a quota system, Japan and America

Among developed countries, an example of a country which shows gradual increase of the representation of women in congress without any quotas (e.g., constitutional quota, quota by election law, and voluntary quota by parties) aside from Japan is the United States (Figure-1). Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranked Japan 156th and the United States 95th among 191 countries for the percentage of parliamentary or congressional seats occupied by women (as of February 2016). The Global Gender Gap Report 2015 by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Japan 101st and the United States 28th among 145 countries. Strictly speaking in politics, Japan ranked 104th whereas the United States ranked 72nd. A notable increase in the number of female lawmakers particularly in the U.S. Senate (Figure-2) has made it possible to conduct various studies on their policy orientation.

Figure-1 Percentage of Female Lawmakers in Japan and the United States (1946–2015)

Figure-2 Percentage of Women in the U.S. Congress (House of Representatives and Senate)

Does political participation by women lead to lax fiscal discipline?

Fiscal discipline is one of the aspects I have looked at with great interest regarding the influence of an increasing number of female lawmakers in the United States. A higher participation of women in the workforce could result in less time being spent on unpaid household work that has traditionally been carried out by women, such as parenting and caregiving, and which may lead to a growing call for public assistance. If female lawmakers become sensitive to these changes and call for action, in other words, if they exercise substantive representation as defined by Pitkin [1967], there is a possibility for women lawmakers to present a different fiscal preference. If these women lean toward higher budget for social services, fiscal deficit that has haunted Japan and other developed countries would only aggravate. Nevertheless, it is questionable in the first place as to whether or not female lawmakers really show a preference for lax fiscal discipline. We can evaluate this issue by studying the sharp rise in the number of female senators in the U.S. Senate and vast legislation data.

In the United States, a legislator alone can introduce a bill. Even if it does not become an official law, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates and publishes the fiscal impact of the bill after passing the Congressional Committee. In other words, it is possible to compare fiscal orientation of each lawmaker. This makes a comparison between male and female law makers possible by categorizing the estimated amount of corresponding budget according to the attributes of the lawmakers introducing the bills. I studied 33,986 bills and resolutions presented by senators over the 15 years from the 106th to 113th Congresses (i.e. 1999–2014). Among the total of 96,203 bills and resolutions introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, there was a total of 4,957 bills and resolutions that passed the Senate Committee, of which 3,791 had fiscal impacts (that is, the CBO estimated the fiscal impact) and 3,399 of them were enacted. The study observed a gender-based preference in fiscal orientation. Data compiled by session could identify the increase and decrease in the budgetary expenditure associated with the bills submitted by each lawmaker, either alone or jointly with other lawmakers, as well as the net total by adding up both. The net total could serve as an indicator of fiscal orientation, which reflects each lawmaker's sense of balance between revenue and spending. In the years leading up to the 112th Congress (2011–12), female senators leaned toward more government spending. Later, these women showed less of an inclination for increased spending than their male counterparts (Figure-3). The trend in the net total (Figure-4) demonstrated that there is no evidence pointing to lax fiscal discipline in the Senate caused by the increasing number of female senators. Moreover, data by political parties demonstrated that female Republican senators tend to favor a substantial reduction in government spending in recent years. Due to the limited space on this paper, further details will be saved for another time.

Figure-3 Spending Increase by Gender (per Senate seat)

Figure-4 Net Total by Gender (per mille of GDP)

Various opinions and possibility of their validation

Women’s active participation in politics increases their participation in society as a whole, which can gradually influence macroeconomics and public finance (Abrams and Settle, 1999; Lott Jr. and Kenny, 1999; Aidt, Dutta and Loukoianova, 2006; Funk and Gathmann, 2006). Stotsky (2006) asserts that women's participation in the workforce stabilizes macro economy because women have greater tendencies to spend their income on household expenses and children as well as risk-averse behaviors toward their savings, deposits, and investments. At the same time, Stotsky points out the possibility for greater pressure by more politically influential women to increase government spending and build up the social safety net. Meanwhile, a fiscal comparison by Funk and Gathmann (2006) between the time before and after extending suffrage to women by cantonal governments in Switzerland demonstrated that women voters cut government spending by about 7 percent and subsequently strengthened fiscal discipline. The reduction of defense spending and agricultural subsidies cancelled out increased budget on welfare, the environment, and public transportation supported by women.

Examination of fiscal orientation of Japanese women would provide interesting insight into the significance of women participating in politics. Yet, such a study needs to be preceded by substantial legislative data related to both female and male lawmakers, which requires, for example, an actual increase in the number of female lawmakers who can exert influence on the institution through their legislative activities, a supportive, legislative environment that enables a single lawmaker to introduce bills, and a newly established public agency that estimates the fiscal impact of each bill.


Abrams, B. A. and Settle, R. F. (1999) 'Women's Suffrage and the Growth of the Welfare State', Public Choice, 100 (3-4), 289-300.
Aidt, T. S., Dutta, J. and Loukoianova, E. (2006) 'Democracy Comes to Europe: Franchise Extension and Fiscal Outcomes, 1830-1938', European Economic Review, 50 (2), 249-283.
Lott Jr., J. R. and Kenny, L. W. (1999) 'Did Women's Suffrage Change the Size and Scope of Government?', Journal of Political Economy, 107 (6 PART 1), 1163-1198.
Funk, P. and Gathmann, C. (2006) 'What Women Want: Suffrage, Gender Gaps in Voter Preferences and Government Expenditures', Gender Gaps in Voter Preferences and Government Expenditures, Internet Publication (July 2006).
Pitkin, H. (1967) The Concept of Representation. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Stotsky, J. (2006) 'Gender and Its Relevance to Macroeconomic Policy: A Survey', IMF Working Paper.

Congressional Budgetary Office, Estimated Fiscal Impact
Inter-Parliamentary Union, Ranking by Percentage of Female Lawmakers
World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report
"Honest Opinions of College-educated Housewives," Morning Edition, The Nikkei, March 19, 2016

Mieko Nakabayashi
Associate Professor, Center for International Education, Waseda University (Global Leadership Program)


Associate Professor Mieko Nakabayashi was born in Fukaya, Saitama in Japan as the eldest of three daughters of a farming family. She has earned a doctoral degree in international public policy from Osaka University and a master's degree in political science from Washington State University in the United States. During her 14-year stay in the United States, she acquired permanent residency and spent roughly 10 years serving on the Republican staff member of the Senate Committee on the Budget under Senator Pete Domenici’s chairmanship. . She was selected for the Woman of the Year Award in 1994 for the politics category by Nikkei Woman and a torch bearer for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Since her return to Japan in 2002, she has held various positions before being appointed to her present post in 2013, including research fellow at RIETI, associate professor at Atomi University, visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, and visiting professor at Renmin University of China. She has also held public positions in organizations such as the Fiscal System Council of MOF, the Council for Science and Technology of MEXT (Evaluation Committee and International Committee), METI (Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy of Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, and Evaluation Committee), and Japan's House of Representatives as an elected member (2009 to 2012).


2004 Fiscal Reform of Japan, Toyo Keizai (co-authored)
2005 Citizen Literacy, Kyoiku-Shuppan (co-authored)
2006 New Schedule for Administrative and Fiscal Reform, Gyosei (co-authored)
2006 Civil Society in the World, NPO Research Center, Osaka University (co-authored)
2008 Voice 4: Examining the Koizumi Cabinet, Sanwa (co-authored)
2009 A Challenge to Obama & America, Sanwa (co-authored and jointly edited)
2012 Simple Habits of Globally Competitive Professional Women, PHP Institute (sole author)