When you tally who hold the positions of power, it becomes clear that women mostly don't. According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, women hold 18.1 percent of the 535 seats in Congress. Only 17.4 percent of mayors of cities with populations over 30,000 are female, and just three of the nine Supreme Court justices are female. More women than ever ran for Congress in 2012, but we're nowhere near parity. So what's causing the gap?
A new report attempts to answer that question. "Girls Just Wanna Not Run," compiled by Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox and published by the School of Public Affairs at American University, details a significant gender gap in young Americans' political aspirations and why it exists.
The authors surveyed 2100 18- to 25-year-olds and identified five key factors that contribute to this political ambition gap:
1) Parents are more likely to socialize their sons to think about politics as a career path than their daughters.
Only 29 percent of female respondents, compared to 40 percent of male ones, reported that they were encouraged to run for office by one or both of their parents. The findings suggest that such encouragement is influential -- 50 percent of students whose mothers suggested they run for office reported that they would definitely like to do so in the future, compared to 3 percent of those who received no such encouragement from their mothers.
2) Young women are less likely to be exposed to political information and discussion, inside and outside the classroom.
Men were 10 percent more likely than women to have taken a political science or government class, and 20 percent more likely to have discussed political issues and current events outside of formal classes. Men were also two-thirds more likely than women to belong to either the College Democrats or College Republicans. 12 percent of male respondents reported running for a student government position, compared with 8 percent of female respondents.
3) Young men are more likely to have played organized sports and to care about winning.
Though the reason for the link between playing competitive sports and being interested in running for office is unclear according to Psychology Today, the report found that individuals who played organized sports in college were much more likely to consider running for office. Thirty-eight percent of men played organized sports in college, compared to 26 percent of women, and 44 percent of men described themselves as "very competitive," compared to 32 percent of women. Women who played sports were 25 percent more likely to express political ambition than women who didn't.
4) Young women are less likely to receive encouragement about running for an elected position.
Nineteen percent of men were encouraged by three sources or more to run for political office later in life, compared to 13 percent of women. And 84 percent of men encouraged to run reported that they would seriously consider doing so. In previous research from Loyola Marymount University, encouragement was seen as one of the strongest predictors of political ambition.
5) Young women are less likely to believe themselves qualified to run for office.
The researchers found that men were almost 60 percent more likely to view themselves as "very qualified" to run for office. Women's self-doubts were almost as influential as familial encouragement in determining whether an individual would run for office.
In spite of the title of the report, the results suggest that the problem is not simply that women "wanna not run," it's that few people and entities in their early lives suggest that they could. The study's authors conclude that early parental support, encouraging girls to play competitive sports, and organizational efforts to get women engaged with political topics could go a long way. The most important step? Getting the idea into young girls' heads.
Lawless told Slate: "If a woman or a young girl thinks about running for office, and makes the conscious decision that this is just not for her and she'd rather work behind the scenes or she'd rather be an astronaut, that's fine. My concern is that it's less likely to appear on women's radar screens in the first place."