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Researchers from UC San Diego found that Democratic control of state houses can lead to substantial improvement in women’s incomes, wages and unemployment relative to men, they announced Thursday.

The study — to be published in a future issue of Legislative Studies Quarterly — found that especially in recent years, Democratic house control can help close the gender inequality gap.

According to the researchers, across all states, women’s wages averaged only 70% of men’s wages in 2018, but just a few years after Democrats are elected in a state, that gap typically declines by 3.6%. Additionally, the researchers estimate that a slim Democratic majority in the house — as opposed to a slim Republican majority — leads to a 2.6% reduction in the overall income gap between men and women.

“No voting bloc is more important in American elections than women,” said first author Zoltan Hajnal, a professor of political science at UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy. “With women accounting for more than half of all votes, small shifts in the female vote can and likely will determine who wins in November.”

Hajnal and co-author John Seungmin Kuk of the University of Oklahoma also assessed whether Democratic or Republican control of the White House could be linked to gains or declines in gender inequality, and the same pattern emerged. Over the last half century, women’s incomes grew almost twice as fast under Democratic administrations than they did when Republicans held the Oval Office, they found. According to the report, the average gain in income for women was $443 per year under Democrats but only $284 per year under Republicans. And, poverty as well as unemployment rates also fell among women under Democratic administrations.

To test whether Democratic or Republican control of state houses impacts gender inequality, the authors tracked male and female wages, income, poverty and employment in each state annually for the last five decades. Specifically, they looked to see if women were catching up to men faster when Democrats controlled the levers of state power then when Republicans did.

Their assessment was made by comparing changes in gender equality in states where Democrats barely won a majority to states where Republicans barely won a majority. Further comparisons revealed that Democratic control of the statehouse leads to significant improvement in female income, significant declines in female unemployment and small declines in the wage and poverty gaps.

“Just one year of Democratic control leads to a one percentage point increase in the female-male income ratio, a 0.7 percentage point decline in the wage gap, a 0.4 percent decline in the female-male employment gap, and a .28% decline in the male-female poverty gap,” the authors wrote.

The study points to ample evidence that women who work in the same job with the same level of experience still get paid considerably less than men. Moreover, there is evidence that after declining for many decades, the gap is no longer narrowing.

According to the researchers, several factors contribute to the inequity, such as the fact that women are much more likely to be family caregivers, so the gender gap widens after motherhood. However, they write, 38% of the wage gap cannot be explained by factors that are easily measured such as occupation, educational attainment or years of experience.

While the researchers could not definitively determine what Democrats do differently to shrink the gap, they found two factors are associated with the gains for women under Democrats.

“The first is gender policy,” they wrote. “Democratic control of the state houses leads to significantly more liberal policies on gender discrimination and access to family planning. The other factor is female representation. We find that having more women in office also leads to more liberal gender policy and likely contributes to improvement on basic economic indicators for women.”

But just having more women hold office isn’t necessarily the answer, they wrote.

“Any impact of female legislators is entirely contingent on having Democrats control the house majority,” they write. “Having women in office greatly matters for gender policy, but only when Democrats control the agenda.”

However, partisan control of the governor’s office appears to have no clear impact on gender equality. Data limitations prevented the authors from directly assessing the effect of Democratic control of state senates, but their exploratory analysis revealed no clear effects.

–City News Service