Hanna Bäck, Marc Debus
When do Women Speak? A Comparative Analysis of the Role of Gender in Legislative Debates

Parliaments in Challenging Times. 3rd General Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Parliaments, München, June 30th to July 02nd, 2016

Are female representatives less likely to participate in legislative debates, and does it matter which topic is debated? Drawing on the previous literature on gender representation, we hypothesise that women are less likely to take the parliamentary floor. We also hypothesise that female MPs are less likely to take the floor in debates on issues of a ‘harder’ nature, whereas they are more likely to participate in debates on ‘softer’ welfare issues. Drawing on ‘critical mass theory’, we expect women to participate less in legislative debates where descriptive representation is lower. Analysing a new data set consisting of legislative debates in seven European countries, we show that the effect of gender on speechmaking varies across countries, but that the pattern does not follow the logic proposed by ‘critical mass theory’. Instead, we find that female MPs are significantly less likely to take the floor in the Finland, Norway and Sweden, that is, in the Nordic countries, where the descriptive representation of women is high. Here, we also find that female MPs are especially under-represented on the floor when the debates are of a ‘harder’ nature. In the other European countries in our sample, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany and Ireland, where female representation is substantially lower, we do not find any significant effects of gender, i.e. the few female MPs who are represented here are equally as likely as their male colleagues to take the floor, when controlling for other features, such as experience and leadership positions.