The Rise of the Iron Ladies: Female Leadership in Democracies (1960-2015)

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Since Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister in 1960, there has been a gradual increase in the number of women entering top political office. In 2013, there was a peak of 14 women leading democracies. However, most previous research used case studies and did not focus specifically on female leaders coming to power in democracies. This thesis investigates two aspects of female leadership in democracies: first, what common characteristics can be identified in the countries where women enter top office, and second, what do female leaders look like compared to their male counterparts? The data indicates that female leaders are more likely to achieve power in democracies in which women have had the right to vote for a longer period of time and in which the executive is a powerful presidency. Female leaders are also more likely to be in power in countries with lower female enrollment in secondary education, where women have had the right to vote for longer a longer period, where there was a recent conflict, in which there is a dual executive, and in which the executive is a powerful presidency. This presents an interesting difference between women coming to power and staying in power. Compared to similar male leaders, the women who come to power are less likely to have children and more likely to have family ties to power. Compared to subsequent female leaders, first female leaders tend to have less prior political experience and are less likely to have experience at lower levels of government. The results have positive implications for the emergence of female leadership in democracies.