The share of women among officeholders varies dramatically based on the office type. While my previous posts focused on Congress, I’m going to focus today on countywide offices because they vary nicely in terms of job responsibilities.
Below is a table showing the party (D = Democratic, R = Republican) and gender (M = Man, W = Woman) for four offices elected in 2014 in all 24 Maryland jurisdictions. County executive is also included for counties with that office.
Closer examination of the data reveals that women hold some of these offices far more often than others. Women are more far more likely to occupy positions as Circuit Court Clerk and Register of Wills than County Executive, Sheriff and State’s Attorney.
Traditional gender roles cast women as fairer and more process-oriented than men who are seen as having stronger leadership skills along with greater physical strength and a propensity for violence that lends itself to fighting off threats. The types of offices more often held by women reflect these roles. Women are much more likely to hold clerkship or process-oriented offices than executive leadership or crime-focused positions.
Circuit Court Clerks and Registers of Wills oversee the careful organization, administration, and collection of detailed important records as well as related taxes and fees. Fair process and administrative ability are central to each position. In Maryland, 67% of Registers of Wills and 42% of Circuit Court Clerks are women.
In contrast, while these same abilities are no doubt useful for County Executives, Sheriffs, and State’s Attorneys, people see them more as positions requiring leadership and crime fighting skills. Not a single Maryland Sheriff is a woman. Though women now form nearly one-half of attorneys and a majority of law students, only 17% of prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys, are women. Among Maryland’s nine county executives, 22% are women.
(Note: my reporting on the continued power of gender roles is neither meant as an endorsement of them nor a suggestion that many men and women do bot perform all of these offices well.)
Women form a higher share of Democratic than Republican officeholders. These differences may result from a variety of factors about which I can only speculate. Republicans are more likely to hold traditional values regarding gender norms while women form a higher share of Democratic primary voters. Democrats may also simply perform more strongly in areas more amenable to female officeholders but this may relate to the same factors.
These differences are similar to what I found in an article coauthored with Sarah Brewer, a former AU graduate student and now Ph.D., published in Social Science Quarterly that studied the election of women to county offices in the South in the 1990s.
Source: David Lublin and Sarah E. Brewer, “The Continuing Dominance of Traditional Gender Roles in Southern Elections,” Social Science Quarterly 84: 2(June 2003), pp. 386-7.
Untangling the causes of these differences is difficult. This sort of work cannot really speak to the extent that these differences result from electoral barriers or career choices stemming both from the environment or other gender differences.
Candidate supply is an easily overlooked factor that needs to be considered. Just as there may be more female Democratic officeholders because more women are Democrats, demographics relating to the gender composition of high-quality candidate pool also influence the probability that a woman holds an office. Sarah Brewer and I found that women are more likely to win in areas with large numbers of African Americans or senior citizens.
Why? At the time of our study, men tended to be better educated than women among whites, while the gender gap in education was reversed for African Americans. As a result, women formed a higher share of the high-quality candidate pool in counties with high African-American populations.
According to the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), similar racial and gender differences in educational attainment exist in our state. Among whites, 42.6% of men and 41.9% of women hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. In the African-American community, 29.9% of women but only 25.2% of men have a B.A. degree or higher.
Though older voters are usually seen as more traditional than younger voters, women may perform better in counties with high concentrations of seniors for another depressing reason (at least from my end): women live longer than men. The 2016 ACS reports that 57.0% of Marylanders 65 and older are women compared to just 50.7% of under 65s.