Public Choice

, Volume 134, Issue 3–4, pp 391–417 | Cite as

Female voting power: the contribution of women’s suffrage to the growth of social spending in Western Europe (1869–1960)

  • Toke S. AidtEmail author
  • Bianca Dallal


Women’s suffrage was a major event in the history of democratization in Western Europe and elsewhere. Public choice theory predicts that the demand for publicly funded social spending is systematically higher where women have and use the right to vote. Using historical data from six Western European countries for the period 1869–1960, we provide evidence that social spending out of GDP increased by 0.6–1.2% in the short-run as a consequence of women’s suffrage, while the long-run effect is three to eight times larger. We also explore a number of other public finance implications of the gender gap.


Women’s suffrage Gender gap Social spending Public finance Growth in government Extension of the franchise 


D7 H1 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abrams, B. A., & Settle, R. F. (1998). Women’s suffrage and the growth of the welfare state. Public Choice, 100, 289–300. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acemoglu, D., & Robinson, J. A. (2005). Economic origins of dictatorship and democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  3. Aidt, T. S., Dutta, J., & Loukoianova, E. (2006). Democracy comes to Europe: franchise extension and fiscal outcomes 1830–1938. European Economic Review, 50(2), 249–283. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arellano, M., & Bond, S. (1991). Some tests of specification for panel data: Monte Carlo evidence and an application to employment equations. Review of Economic Studies, 58, 277–297. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Austen-Smith, D. (2000). Redistributing income under proportional representation. Journal of Political Economy, 108, 1235–1269. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beck, N., & Katz, J. N. (1995). What to do (and what not to do) with time-series cross-section data. The American Political Science Review, 89(3), 634–647. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Becker, G. S. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Google Scholar
  8. Boix, C. (2001). Democracy, development and the public sector. American Journal of Political Science, 45(1), 1–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boix, C. (2003). Democracy and redistribution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  10. Carstairs, A. M. (1980). A short history of electoral systems in Western Europe. London: Allen & Unwin. Google Scholar
  11. Cavalcanti, T., & Tavares, J. (2006). Women prefer larger governments: growth, structural transformation and government size. Discussion paper 5667. Centre for Economic Policy Research. Google Scholar
  12. Cook, C., & Paxton, J. (1998). European political facts. London: MacMillan. Google Scholar
  13. Eckel, C., & Grossman, P. J. (1998). Are women less selfish than men? Evidence from dictator experiments. Economic Journal, 108, 726–735. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Edlund, L., & Pande, R. (2002). Why have women become left-wing? The political gender gap and the decline in marriage. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(3), 917–961. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Flora, P., Alber, J., Eichenberg, R., Krausm, J. K. F., Pfenning, W., & Seebohm, K. (1983). State, economy and society 1815–1975. Frankfurt: Campus. Google Scholar
  16. Franklin, M. N., Mackie, T. T., & Valen, H. (1992). Electoral change: responses to evolving social and attitudinal structures in Western countries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  17. Funk, P., & Gathmann, C. (2006). What women want: suffrage, female voter preferences and the scope of government. Unpublished working paper, Stanford University. Google Scholar
  18. Goldin, C. (1990). Understanding the gender gap: an economic history of American women. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  19. Hand, G., Georgel, J., & Sasse, C. (1979). European electoral systems handbook. London: Butterworths. Google Scholar
  20. Hardin, J. W. (2002). The robust variance estimator for two-stage model. The Stata Journal, 2(3), 253–266. Google Scholar
  21. Judson, R., & Owen, A. L. (1999). Estimating dynamic panel data models: a practical guide for macroeconomists. Economic Letters, 65(1), 9–15. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lindert, P. H. (1994). The rise in social spending 1880–1930. Explorations in Economic History, 31, 1–37. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lindert, P. H. (2004). Growing public: social spending and economic growth since the eighteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  24. Lizzeri, A., & Persico, N. (2001). The provision of public goods under alternative electoral incentives. American Economic Review, 91(1), 225–239. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lott, J. R., & Kenny, L. W. (1999). Did Women’s suffrage change the size and scope of government? Journal of Political Economy, 107, 1163–1198. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Maddison, A. (1991). Dynamic forces in capitalist development: a long-run comparative view. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  27. Maddison, A. (2003). The world economy: historical statistics. Paris: OECD. Google Scholar
  28. Marshall, M. G., & Jaggers, K. (2000). Polity IV project. Data set users manual. Retrieved 20 August 2007, from Centre for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland Web site:
  29. Milesi-Feretti, G. M., Perotti, R., & Rostagno, M. (2002). Electoral systems and public spending. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(2), 609–657. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mitchell, B. R. (1998). International historical statistics: Europe, 1750–1993. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Google Scholar
  31. Peacock, A. T., & Wiseman, J. (1961). The growth in public expenditures in the United Kingdom. London: Allen & Unwin. Google Scholar
  32. Persson, T., & Tabellini, G. (2000). Political economics: explaining economic policy. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  33. Persson, T., & Tabellini, G. (2003). The economic effects of constitutions. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  34. Powell, G. B. (1986). American voter turnout in comparative perspective. American Political Science Review, 80, 17–43. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Radcliff, B. (1992). The welfare state, turnout and the economy. American Political Science Review, 86, 444–456. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Radcliff, B., & Davis, P. (2000). Labor organization and electoral participation in industrial democracies. American Journal of Political Science, 44(1), 132–141. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rosenstone, S. (1982). Economic adversity and voter turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 26, 25–46. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stutzer, A., & Kienast, L. (2005). Demokratische Beteiligung und Staatsausgaben: Die Auswirkungen des Frauenstimmrechts. Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics 2005-IV, article 5. Retrieved 20 August 2007, from
  39. Tanzi, V., & Schuknecht, L. (2000). Public spending in the 20th century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Economics and Jesus CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Queens’ CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations