The primary reason for women's underrepresentation? Reevaluating the conventional wisdom

Jennifer L. Lawless, Kathryn Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

216 Scopus citations


When women run in general elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, they win at approximately the same rates as their male counterparts. With the exception of studies of selected congressional districts in particular years, however, scholars have virtually ignored the gender dynamics of the congressional primary process. In this paper, we fill this void, analyzing data from 1958 to 2004 to test hypotheses about women's victory rates and levels of primary competition. Our analysis results in an additional explanation for women's underrepresentation: the congressional primary process. Although women generally do not win primaries at lower rates than their male counterparts, women in both parties face more primary competition than do men. Gender neutral victory rates, then, are not the result of a gender neutral primary process. Women have to be "better" than their male counterparts in order to fare equally well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-82
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


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