Gender, politics, and child mortality: externalities of female political representation?

Ross Macmillan, Università Bocconi

Efforts to understand the social dynamics of population health have focused surprisingly little attention on political context. This is particularly the case with respect to meso-level contexts such a political representation and the bodies that implement social policy. In this paper, we develop a theoretical model that explains why increases in female representation in political processes influence population health. Building upon research in political science, we argue that female politicians are particularly likely to push for policies embodying maternal health and child well-being, even when such policies are orthogonal to party doctrine. We test these ideas with a unique cross-national, panel data set that includes indicators female representation in national government (www.ipu.org), as well as measures of infant and child mortality (data.worldbank.org). We further explore the policy mechanisms that link female political representation to child survival with specific examination of education, medical interventions, and economic capacity. Results indicate strong associations between the percentage of female politicians in government and child mortality that are robust with traditional indicators of economic and/or social development and varied econometric specifications to identify causal effects. Moreover, the pathways that connect female representation to child health are explored and seen to be both multifaceted and operating at multiple levels. Implications for broad ideas about human development goals, political process, and policy formation in the pursuit of improving infant and child survival are discussed.

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 Presented in Session 48. Dimensions of health transition in developing countries