The University Network

More Women In Government Leads To Less Corruption, Study Finds

Countries with a greater representation of women in government are less corrupt, according to researchers Chandan Jha of Le Moyne College and Sudipta Sarangi of Virginia Tech.

In a recent study on how women impact corruption in both governmental roles and the labor force, they found that corruption is lower in places where women hold more policy-making positions.

The research highlights the importance of female presence in government at a time when women continue to be politically underrepresented around the world.

This research underscores the importance of women empowerment, their presence in leadership roles and their representation in government,” Sarangi, a professor and head of the Department of Economics at Virginia Tech, said in a statement.

The study is published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Measuring corruption

To measure corruption levels, the researchers used the Control of Corruption Index (CCI) created by the World Bank to capture the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain.

“The CCI is a continuous variable that takes values from -2.5 (most corrupt) to 2:5 (least corrupt). The CCI has been constructed in a way that its mean is 0 and the standard deviation is equal to 1,” said Sarangi.

Using this basis of measurement, the researchers collected data on 125 countries from a number of sources, including the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Freedom House.

They examined information on the roles of women in parliamentary positions, as well as within the labor force, including clerical, managerial and CEO positions.

Then, they used a statistical technique known as the instrumental variable, a method of analysis used to account for unexpected behavior between variables, to determine causality in an experiment.

Their analysis also included a number of control variables, such as economic, cultural and institutional factors.

“We examined the earlier literature on corruption and related topics as well as our own understanding of the topic to determine what sorts of control variables may be needed,” said Sarangi.

Examples of control variables include average years of schooling in the population, the Social Institutions and Gender Index (cross-country measure of discrimination against women in social institutions), Hofstede’s Power Distance Index (measure of distribution of power and wealth between individuals in an organization or institution), and openness to trade, he explained.

This information was then collected from a variety of sources and used in the overall analysis.

The findings

Overall, the researchers found strong evidence that women’s presence in government has a direct causal and negative impact on corruption, but found no significant relationship between corruption levels and the role of women in the general labor force.

In other words, the research suggests that women can have an impact on corruption through policy-making roles.

This is a significant discovery, because previous research on female representation in politics has failed to show a causal relationship.

But now, the researchers provide a comprehensive body of work showing a negative relationship between women’s presence in government and corruption.

They claim that this negative relationship held up in a regional analysis of 17 European countries, which removes the concern that the relationship is driven by unobservable country-specific characteristics.

They also found that this relationship is unlikely to vanish as women gain more equal status to men, as the results were the same among countries with equal male-female representations.  


While the study focused primarily on analyzing the existing relationship, and not on why countries with more women in government are less corrupt, the researchers believe the explanation lies in the nature of the policies that women advocate.

“This is not a question we address in our study, but other researchers have shown that female policy-makers may focus more on education/health type policies relative to their male counterparts,” explains Sarangi.

But perhaps most importantly, the implications of this study point towards the general need for promoting gender equality in politics.

“This is especially important in light of the fact that women remain underrepresented in politics in most countries including the United States,” Sarangi said in a statement.

The U.S. government has yet to have a female president, and the current number of women represented in Congress is a mere 19.4 percent.