Political Accountability, Legislator Gender, and the Status Quo Bias

Lior Sheffer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A large body of literature in political science documents differences between elected men and women in their substantive policy preferences, representation styles, and effectiveness as legislators. We know far less about whether female and male representatives respond differently to being held politically accountable for their decisions. Although it is a difficult concept to evaluate empirically with incumbents, this absence of research is nevertheless surprising considering the central role of accountability in legislative behavior and the nonelite evidence that women and men respond differently to attributions of accountability. I provide evidence for the existence of such an accountability gender gap in an experiment with 377 incumbent legislators in three countries, in which they were asked to choose between economic policy plans alternately presented as the status quo, with varying levels of implied task accountability. Elected women and men reacted significantly differently when the political accountability levels of the task increased: female politicians exhibited a stronger preference for policies presented as the status quo, whereas male politicians were more likely to abandon the status quo and favor change. This pattern is unique to politicians and is not observed in nonelites. I discuss processes that motivate this divergence and the implications for research on gender and political representation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-401
Number of pages37
JournalPolitics and Gender
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • accountability
  • decision making
  • elite behavior
  • experiment
  • gender
  • status quo


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