Document Type

Article - On Campus Only

Publication Date



A leading explanation for the small number of women in top elective positions is that not enough women comprise the pool of candidates generally considered "eligible" to run for political office. This explanation assumes that once more women excel in the areas of law and business, the leading occupations preceding a career in politics, the disparity between the number of women and men serving in elected positions will dissipate. Despite the fact that studies of the initial decision to run for office are critically important in evaluating women's slow movement into elected positions, almost no empirical work examines the initial decision to seek office. This article, which examines the attitudes of over 200 women and men from the pool of potential candidates in New York State, offers a first look at some of the ways in which gender may interact with the initial decision to run for office. Ultimately, we argue that the "eligibility pool" explanation may not fully take into account the manner in which the continued prevalence of traditional sex-role socialization affects the initial decision to enter the political arena. We find that traditional family structures and historically socialized gender roles may continue to discourage women from seeking public office. These findings reinforce the notion that broad patterns of sex-role socialization continue to impede women from full inclusion in the electoral process.

Recommended Citation

Richard L. Fox & Jennifer L. Lawless (2003) Family Structure, Sex-Role Socialization, and the Decision to Run for Office, Women & Politics, 24:4, 19-48, DOI: 10.1300/J014v24n04_02.