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The gender balance gap between the European Parliament and national parliaments – updated

In the December 2014 issue of “European Union Politics” there is a  paper by Fortin-Rittberger & Rittberger* titled “Do electoral rules matter? Explaining national differences in women’s representation in the European Parliament“ (an earlier version in open access here).

Looking mainly at data from 2009 (and 2004), the key question of their paper is, in my summary:

Why is there a difference in gender representation between lower houses of parliaments of EU member states and the gender balance in the national delegations of MEPs from the same country?

Before looking into the details of their findings, I’ve produced a chart reflecting the 2014 situation in the same way the 2009 situation is portrayed in the paper (which doesn’t look into 2014).

Difference in % between the European Parliament (July 2014) and national parliaments (1 October 2014); positive = higher share of women at EU-level

Figure 1: Difference in % between women’s representation in the national delegations to the European Parliament (July 2014) and in national parliaments (1 October 2014); positive = higher share of women at EU-level.

I gathered the data for national parliaments, i.e.lower or single houses, from the IPU (situation as of 1 October 2014) and for the EP from a freshly published statistics document by the European Parliament (p.12), and calculated a simple difference between the percentages (see Google sheet).

As one can see, for most countries (23 out of 28) the share of women is higher in Brussels/Strasbourg than in national parliaments, which confirms a trend since 1979, though not equally distributed across countries. In four countries (Lithuania, Belgium, Poland and Denmark), there is a lower percentage of women in the 2014 EP than in the national assembly as of October this year. For Germany, the share is exactly the same.

Figure  2 in the Fortin-Rittberger & Rittberger article shows that, in 2009, the situation was similar. Back then, there were six countries with a lower share of women at EU-level than at national level  (Malta, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland and Belgium) while for Spain the share was the same.

This demonstrates – and that’s one of the starting observations of the paper – that the trend towards a higher share of women in the EP is not equally distributed across EU member states and that in a few cases the difference is even negative.

While these figures just show the difference between the national and EU-level, it should be noted however that, in October 2014, there was not a single EU national parliament with 50% or more female deputies. The  EP average across all national delegations is 36.9%, although five national delegations include at least 50% female MEPs (see the figures below).

Gender Rep_EU2

Figure 2: based on same data as above. Ordered by difference between EP share and national parliament share.

In their research, Fortin-Rittberger and Rittberger try to find out whether the difference in electoral rules between EP and national elections (i.e. size of districts, effective electoral thresholds, difference in disproportionality) and a number of other factors that are commonly used to explain differences in female representation in parliaments can explain the difference. Yet, their finding is basically that none of the factors traditionally used to explain differences in gender representation can (statistically) explain the differences we can observe.

That leaves us with more open questions than answers – good for research(ers) but not very satisfying for telling a convincing story or for increasing the representation of women in parliaments. The paper doesn’t look into gender quotas because of their mixed track record on actually increasing female representation as a range of research in recent years has shown, at latest for example these fresh articles on Poland (1, 2, 3)

Basically, there doesn’t seem to be a single story behind the level of difference in women’s representation in individual national parliaments and in the respective national delegations to the European Parliament.  The fact that the gender balance gap has not been constant from 2009 to 2014 (compare Figure 2 in the paper and the Figure 1 of this post), which mathematically could be both due to changes in the composition of national parliaments and/or in  national EP delegations, is also not helping to make a clear picture emerge.

In short, we still don’t seem to be able explain the differences we observe, but after Fortin-Rittberger & Rittberger’s paper we at least know where we probably do not need to search: It’s not the difference in electoral rules between EP and national elections that explains the different gender balance gaps, at least not across the board.

Update (9 December 2014): There’s also a follow-up paper (for APSA) by Fortin-Ritterberger & Ritterberger titled “Nominating Women for EP Elections: Exploring the role of political parties’ recruitment procedures

Update II (21 January 2015): The authors of this research have now published a blog post on the LSE EUROPP blog summarising their findings.

Disclaimer: Berthold Rittberger is a professor here at GSI in Munich, where I also work.

3 Responses to The gender balance gap between the European Parliament and national parliaments – updated

  1. Pingback: The gender balance gap between the European Parliament and national parliaments |

  2. avatar linn says:

    Hej Ronny,
    have you had a look at the sociological research conducted by i.a. Willy Beauvallet and Sebastien Michon (Beauvallet/Michon 2012: Faire carrière au Parlement européen. Activation des dispositions et socialisation institutionelle, in: Georgakakis et al.: Le champ de l’Eurocratie)? They explain that gap by diverging carreer trajectories, as the EP offers carreer paths to ‘outsiders’ which would otherwise not be able to participate.


  3. avatar Jon Worth says:

    What Linn says seems like a viable explanation. At least in the UK, sending someone to the EP – in Labour and the Tories at least – is a sort of reward for those who didn’t make it nationally, and women fare very badly in the selection system for FPTP in the UK. So hence, by a sort of compensation, more women end up in the European Parliament.

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