December 5, 2007

How the World Rates Women as Leaders

by Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Research Associate, Pew Global Attitudes Project

On December 10, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will be inaugurated as Argentina’s first female president. The senator and first lady will join 11 other women who currently serve as their countries’ presidents or prime ministers, including Michelle Bachelet in neighboring Chile. But while women worldwide are making gains in all levels of government, the most recent Pew Global Attitudes survey of 46 countries and the Palestinian territories finds that publics around the world express mixed opinions about women and political leadership.

The countries of Western Europe, North America and Latin America generally include the highest proportions of respondents who rate men and women as equally good political leaders. Roughly two-thirds in Kirchner’s country (68%) express that view, while 17% say men are better leaders and 9% prefer women. In the United States, fully three-quarters say men and women make equally good political leaders, and that opinion is even more widespread in Western Europe.

By contrast, majorities in Mali (65%), the Palestinian territories (64%), Kuwait (62%), Pakistan (54%), Bangladesh (52%) and Ethiopia (51%) say men make better political leaders than women, as do nearly half of Jordanians (49%) and Nigerians (48%). Russians are also divided: 44% say men and women make equally good leaders while 40% say men are better. Only in Brazil do more people say women make better political leaders than say men do: 15% of Brazilians say women make better political leaders and 10% say men are better leaders.

Opinions about women in political leadership positions are somewhat correlated with the extent to which women play leadership roles, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s political empowerment index. The index is derived from three sets of data: the ratio of women to men currently in cabinet-level positions in the country; the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions, and the ratio of the number of years out of the last 50 in which the head of state was a woman to the number of years in which it was a man.1

Publics in countries that receive the highest scores on the political empowerment scale are generally more likely to say that men and women make equally good political leaders. For example, in Sweden, the highest ranking country in terms of female political empowerment, fully nine-in-ten say men and women are equally good leaders. In Kuwait, on the other hand, where women were given the right to vote and to run for office for the first time in 2005, only one-third say men and women are equally good as political leaders while more than six-in-ten (62%) say men are better.

Views of political leadership often split along gender lines as well, with men more likely than women to say men make better political leaders and women more likely than men to say either that women make better leaders or that both are equally good. This is especially the case in Africa as well as in several Asian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European countries. In Senegal, for example, a slight majority of men (51%) say men make better political leaders than women, but fewer than a quarter (23%) of Senegalese women share that view. Women in that country are much more likely to say both men and women are equally good as leaders (59% of women express that opinion vs. 37% of men).

In the United States, where Hillary Clinton currently leads the Democratic primary field in national polls, opinions about gender and political leadership reflect partisan rather than gender differences. Nearly three-in-ten (29%) Republicans say men make better leaders, compared with one-in-ten Democrats. A similar proportion of Democrats also say women would make better leaders (9%), and nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say both men and women are equally good. By contrast, only 2% of Republicans say women make better political leaders and about two-thirds (65%) say both are equally good.

  1. For a description of the Political Empowerment Index see the World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report, 2007.